This week, the public is again witnessing the ritualistic exercise of the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee. Of course, the outcome of Sonia Sotomayor’s hearings is not much in doubt. What has been conspicuously absent is substance. The vast majority of questions and answers remained on a shallow and predictable level where Sotomayor did little more than describe current doctrines and case law — avoiding disclosures of her own views. What is most striking is how Sotomayor’s statements were virtually identical to both her conservative and liberal predecessors…
Once you discard answers that simply restate basic legal doctrines or principles, little is revealed in these hearings that you could not find in a standard legal hornbook. The Sotomayor hearings have been long on insights into her personality and short on insights into her philosophy.
Yet, despite her moderate voting record, she has some worrisome rulings for civil libertarians. If Sotomayor votes the way she has on the 2nd Circuit, liberals could still lose ground on the Supreme Court over free speech, student rights and other core areas. Her life story will mean precious little to those people who might be stripped of rights or denied legal protections. For example, Sotomayor held in one case that schools could discipline students for statements that they made on a blog in their personal time. The impact of such a sweeping denial of free speech rights is hardly lessened with the consideration of Sotomayor’s life story.