Legal Ethics and Reform

Sonia Sotomayor Lacks a Judicial Temperament

C-SPAN recently ran parts of the oral argument from the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals on the New Haven Firefighter Case (officially known as Ricci et al v. Destefano). The exchanges between the lawyer for the firefighters, Karen Lee Torre, and Judge Sotomayor were, of course, given prominence.

This lawyer was dong a yeoman’s job of trying to explain that passing the difficult test simply proved the applicant for promotion had acquired the information that has to be instantly available to the leader of a band of firefighters as they approach an inferno. The necessary information includes things such as: 1) effects of humidity, wind, and temperature on combustion, 2) the flammable characteristics of certain materials, 3) the strength and fire resistant characteristics of certain types of construction, 4) the usefulness of certain equipment in different fire fighting situations, etc.

Judge Sotomayor was having none of it. She could not accept the obvious truthfulness of the lawyer’s explanations. Sotomayor obviously had a different agenda; she felt that by raising her voice and interrupting frequently, the truthfulness of the facts being presented could be altered. Finally the firefighter’s lawyer had to bring Sotomayor up short by suggesting the judge might be happy with having people presenting argument in her courtroom who had never passed the bar exam. Of course, Sotomayor wouldn’t go that far, so the lawyer countered by implying Sotomayor seemed to insist on passing a qualifying exam for people operating in a non-life threatening situation but would deny the importance of qualifying exams for decisions makers in life threatening situations. Sotomayor, even after this massive “put down”, was incapable of perceiving or acknowledging obvious truth when it clashed with her preconceptions. However, to her credit she allowed the Firefighter’s lawyer to have a minute or two without interruption before time ran out. Overall it seems, from these tapes, that Sotomayor is unsuited for the judicial role.

There is a related broader societal problem that is made manifested by this situation and needs to be acknowledged. It was not part of the New Haven Firefighter case, but it colors all such cases. In America, there is a shortage of blacks who can pass difficult or even moderately hard tests. The reasons for this are not known, but its presence can’t be ignored. There are some intellectually capable blacks, but their numbers are not great and with widespread standardized testing those that have any ability to deal with difficult tests are being found and pushed to, and even beyond, their maximum capability. Any New Haven area black who could handle the difficult two hour New Haven Firefight test has probably been located and given a scholarship to college and even law school. This process depletes the pool of qualified blacks available for firefighter positions with the ability to pass leadership tests.

The Robert’s Supreme Court finds itself tacking and filling trying to escape the small rocky bay entered years ago by well meaning American extremists with names like Justice Taney, President Lincoln, Justice Brown, President Wilson, Justice Warren, and President Johnson. It looks like the Court has escaped the shoal labeled “the New Haven Firefighter’s case”, but there are hundreds of other rocks and shoals about. With patience and love all Americans can help the court over the next decade find a way to shift the sails and set the rudder so the ship of state can escape this deadly place.

Unfortunately Sotomayor’s arrival is not likely to help this process.

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