CBS on Sotomayor: 'Can't Be Easily Defined by Political Labels' --5/28/2009
2. Washington Post's Labeling Bias Over Recent Supreme Court Picks
3. Sotomayor Calls Herself Liberal, Even When the NY Times Won't
4. ABC's Praises 'Obama's Latina Powerhouse,' Her 'Mean' Guacamole
5. Lauer: Will Opposing Hispanic Supreme Court Nominee 'Cost' GOP?
6. On MSNBC's Hardball: Racist Limbaugh Chasing Away Hispanics
7. New MRC Web Site, So New Online Location for CyberAlerts
A baffled CBS. The CBS Evening News, which in 2005 had no doubt about how John Roberts and Samuel Alito were dangerous conservatives, expressed bewilderment Wednesday evening over where Obama's Supreme Court nominee stands. "Pundits usually label judges as either liberal or conservative, but that won't be easy with Judge Sotomayor," Katie Couric propounded in setting up a piece from Wyatt Andrews, who concluded: "President Obama, then, has found a judge with 17 years experience but no clear ideology on discrimination, gay rights, or abortion and who can't be easily defined by political labels."
At least not by the CBS newscast, which back in 2005 asserted Roberts would move "the court further to the right" and fretted over the Alito pick "tilting the Supreme Court in a solidly conservative direction for years to come."
Andrews began by conveying liberal concerns: "Sonia Sotomayor has been a very unpredictable judge. For example, pro-abortion rights groups worried aloud today that the President -- who promised an abortion rights nominee -- never asked Sotomayor, who is Catholic, where she stands." Following two soundbites from the President of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Andrews framed the debate through a left-wing rhetorical prism as he noted conservatives "worry...she will always favor minorities" while liberals say "she will be a liberal, using the law to help real people." He then relayed how Tom Goldstein, "who runs a neutral Supreme Court blog, says they are all wrong."
[This item, by the MRC's Brent Baker, was posted Wednesday night, with video, on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
A story on the NBC Nightly News also approached Sotomayor from the left, the very far-left as Pete Williams conveyed the worry of a group on the extreme left: "Though her nomination has widespread support among liberal legal scholars, some say it's not yet clear that she's prepared to take on the court's most conservative justices." Viewers then heard from National Lawyers Guild President Marjorie Cohn: "I would like to see a very strong liberal voice to counteract Scalia and Roberts, and I hope that she does become that strong liberal voice."
More on the CBS Evening News in 2005: John Roberts, as anchor, wanted to know of his namesake: "Has President Bush attempted to move the court further to the right with this pick?"
A few months later when Bush selected Alito, CBS reporter John Roberts (now with CNN) filed a story on the newscast, anchored by Bob Schieffer, in which he ominously warned: "If confirmed, Alito would wipe out the swing seat now occupied by Sandra Day O'Connor, tilting the Supreme Court in a solidly conservative direction for years to come." More on 2005 coverage: www.mrc.org
From the Wednesday, May 27 CBS Evening News, following a story on "proud" Hispanics and how the selection has put Republicans in a bind:
KATIE COURIC: Now pundits usually label judges as either liberal or conservative, but that won't be easy with Judge Sotomayor. Wyatt Andrews takes a closer look at her paper trail.
WYATT ANDREWS: Behind the applause for her personal achievements, it turns out Sonia Sotomayor has been a very unpredictable judge. For example, pro-abortion rights groups worried aloud today that the President -- who promised an abortion rights nominee -- never asked Sotomayor, who is Catholic, where she stands.
The Washington Post front page for May 27 announced the Sonia Sotomayor nomination to the Supreme Court with this large headline: "First Latina Picked for Supreme Court; GOP Faces Delicate Task in Opposition." There's no reference to Sotomayor being a liberal.
Below that is a story on her ethnic identity headlined "Heritage Shapes Judge's Perspective." Reporters Amy Goldstein and Jerry Markon noticed three paragraphs in that she spoke at a conference "bluntly rejecting the argument of conservative legal thinkers that judges should decide cases purely on close readings of facts and law, excluding their own frames of reference." How did previous Supreme Court nominations do in labeling the ideology of nominees? Unsurprisingly the Post highlighted the conservatism of recent Republican nominees, but placed Democratic nominees in the middle.
[This item, by the MRC's Tim Graham, was posted Wednesday afternoon on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
Here's a list of Washington Post front-page headlines on the first day after the official nomination that hinted at an ideology:
# Samuel Alito (November 1, 2005)
"Alito Nomination Sets Stage for Ideological Battle; Bush's Court Pick Is Appeals Judge With Record of Conservative Rulings"
"Alito Leans Right Where O'Connor Swung Left"
"Bush Chooses Roberts for Court; Appeals Judge for D.C. Has Conservative Credentials"
"A Move To the Right, An Eye to Confirmation"
"Boston Judge Breyer Nominated to High Court; After Long Process, Clinton's Choice of Centrist Likely to Avoid Confirmation Controversy on Hill"
"A Moderate Pragmatist; Nominee Widely Admired in Legal Circles"
"Judge Ruth Ginsburg Named to High Court; Clinton's Unexpected Choice Is Women's Rights Pioneer"
"Nominee's Philosophy Seen Strengthening the Center"
"Bush Picks Thomas for Supreme Court; Appeals Court Judge Served as EEOC Chairman in Reagan Administration"
"Self-Made Conservative; Nominee Insists He Be Judged on Merits"
It's perfectly clear that The Washington Post is not a reliable source for discerning the ideological tilt of Democratic court picks in the first hours after a nomination.
New York Times White House reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg penned the Wednesday personality-driven "Woman in the News" look at Obama's Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, "A Trailblazer And a Dreamer." Sotomayor was described as liberal only once by Stolberg, in indirect and mild fashion, even though the judge was quoted calling herself a liberal in the piece itself. Stolberg gushed that Obama Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor "danced a mean salsa" at Princeton, hints she might be some kind of liberal '€" in paragraph 73.
[This item, by Clay Waters, was posted Wednesday on the MRC's TimesWatch site: timeswatch.org ]
She was "a child with dreams," as she once said, the little girl who learned at 8 that she had diabetes, who lost her father when she was 9, who devoured Nancy Drew books and spent Saturday nights playing bingo, marking the cards with chickpeas, in the squat red brick housing projects of the East Bronx.
She was the history major and Puerto Rican student activist at Princeton who spent her first year at that bastion of the Ivy League "too intimidated to ask questions." She was the tough-minded New York City prosecutor, and later the corporate lawyer with the dazzling international clients. She was the federal judge who "saved baseball" by siding with the players' union during a strike.
Now Sonia Sotomayor -- a self-described "Nuyorican" whose mother, a nurse, and father, a factory worker, left Puerto Rico during World War II -- is President Obama's choice for the Supreme Court, with a chance to make history as only the third woman and first Hispanic to sit on the highest court in the land. Her up-by-the-bootstraps tale, an only-in-America story that in many ways mirrors Mr. Obama's own, is one reason for her selection, and it is the animating characteristic of her approach to both life and the law.
Stolberg saw conservative critics of the judge, yet refused to directly call Sotomayor a liberal:
In describing his criteria for a Supreme Court pick, Mr. Obama said he was looking for empathy -- a word that conservatives, who are already attacking Judge Sotomayor, have described as code for an activist judge with liberal views who will impose her own agenda on the law. Her critics also raise questions about her judicial temperament, saying she can be abrupt and impatient on the bench.
But Judge Sotomayor's friends say she is simply someone who will bring the "common touch" that the president has said he prizes to her understanding of the law.
When Ms. Sotomayor arrived at Princeton in the fall of 1972, she was one of the only Latinos there: there were no professors, no administrators, and only a double-digit number of students. Princeton women were sharply outnumbered as well; the first ones had been admitted only a few years earlier, and some alumni had protested their increasing ranks. (Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who graduated just a few months before Ms. Sotomayor arrived, belonged to one of the groups that protested.)
(Hmm. Did Alito protest against more women at Princeton? He was a nominal member of a conservative student group, Concerned Alumni of Princeton, which protested affirmative action, but that's not quite the same thing, except perhaps among ultraliberals.)
Stolberg marveled that although Sotomayor was a "grind" at Princeton, "she also smoked, drank beer and danced a mean salsa." She briefly sketched Sotomayor's liberal environment and even quoted the judge calling herself a liberal, which is more than Stolberg was willing to do:
In her fifth year in the office, she was interviewed for The New York Times Magazine about the prosecutors working for [Manhattan District Attorney Robert] Morgenthau. She was described as an imposing woman of 29 who smoked incessantly, and spoke of how she had coped in a job that some liberal friends disapproved of.
"I had more problems during my first year in the office with the low-grade crimes -- the shoplifting, the prostitution, the minor assault cases," she said. "In large measure, in those cases you were dealing with socioeconomic crimes, crimes that could be the product of the environment and of poverty.
"Once I started doing felonies, it became less hard. No matter how liberal I am, I'm still outraged by crimes of violence. Regardless of whether I can sympathize with the causes that lead these individuals to do these crimes, the effects are outrageous."
In 1984, Ms. Sotomayor left the district attorney's office and joined Pavia & Harcourt, a boutique commercial law firm in Manhattan.
"We had an opening for a litigator, and her résumé was perfect," said George M. Pavia, the managing partner who hired her. "She's an excellent lawyer, a careful preparer of cases, liberal, but not doctrinaire, not wild-eyed."
But Judge Sotomayor's most celebrated case came in 1995, when she ended a prolonged baseball strike by ruling forcefully against the baseball team owners and in favor of the ballplayers, resulting in a quick resumption of play. For a brief period, she was widely celebrated, at least in those cities with major-league teams, as the savior of baseball.
Not until the 73rd paragraph of the 84-paragraph, 5,000-word piece did Stolberg indirectly hint that Sotomayor just might be ideologically located somewhere vaguely left of center:
Judge Sotomayor has had several rulings that indicate a generally more liberal judicial philosophy than a majority of justices on the current Supreme Court, leading some conservatives to label her a "judicial activist."
In 2000, for example, she wrote an opinion that would have allowed a man to sue a government contractor he accused of violating his constitutional rights. In 2007, she wrote an opinion interpreting an environmental law in a way that would favor more stringent protections, even if it cost power plant owners more money. The Supreme Court reversed both decisions.
The ruling by Judge Sotomayor that has attracted the most attention was a 2008 case upholding an affirmative action program at the New Haven Fire Department. A group of white firefighters sued because the city threw out the results of a test for promotions after few minority firefighters scored well on it. The Supreme Court is now reviewing that result.
END of Excerpt
For Stolberg's May 27 article: www.nytimes.com
By contrast, Samuel Alito's "Man in the News " profile from November 1, 2005, after Bush announced Alito as his Supreme Court nominee, was crammed with ideological labels. The Alito profile by Neil Lewis and Scott Shane began with a flattering anecdote, but quickly added: "While Judge Alito, 55, has built a reputation for decency, he has also compiled a conservative record that is coming under intense scrutiny from activists on the left and the right who understand his potential for shifting the balance on the bench....Judge Alito's jurisprudence has been methodical, cautious, respectful of precedent and solidly conservative, legal scholars said."
So are "decency" and "conservatism" somehow mutually exclusive?
The headline to the jump page hammered the "conservative" theme: "Court Pick Is Described as a Methodical Jurist With a Clear Conservative Record." In all, Alito was labeled conservative five times, and was described as conservative by others twice more.
Finally, an op-ed Wednesday by self-described conservative law professor (and Sotomayor friend) Gerald Magliocca argued the judge should be confirmed without protest by Republicans, given that she shares the president's "measured temperament." How convenient!
I am a conservative, and I did not vote for President Obama. It is perfectly understandable for conservatives to say that they will not vote for anyone the president picks, but at that point the debate, if you can call it that, is over. For those of us who think that intellectual rigor and fairness are the crucial factors, no matter which party the president hails from, there is no question that Judge Sotomayor should be confirmed.
Chief Justice John Roberts said in his confirmation hearings that a judge should behave like an umpire. Now President Obama wants to give the court the judge who actually saved baseball.
ABC's Good Morning America program on Wednesday led their 7 am Eastern hour with three positive reports about Judge Sonia Sotomayor, highlighting her judicial background and personal story. Anchor Diane Sawyer began the program with a promo of this coverage: "The battle begins: How will President Obama's Latina powerhouse handle the opposition?...And we also go home to bring you personal details about the girl from the housing projects, nominated for the Supreme Court." Correspondent Claire Shipman went so far as to play up trivial details from the nominee's personal life: "She's also an avid Yankees fan, a mean guacamole maker, and a fierce biker." None of the coverage explained how making a killer chip dip adds to her qualifications for the Supreme Court.
After Sawyer's initial promo, fellow anchor Chris Cuomo immediately chimed in and highlighted the presence of Sotomayor's mother at the president's press conference: "Now, I know that the selection of a nominee to the Court is supposed to be about the law and philosophy, but what a human moment to see Sonia Sotomayor talking about her mother. It was really a great human moment yesterday. There's her mom, literally brought to tears by such a special occasion."
[This item, by the MRC's Matthew Balan, was posted Wednesday morning on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
The two anchors then turned to correspondent Jonathan Karl, who outlined how the two parties on Capitol Hill saw the judicial pick: "Democrats are praising her as a brilliant legal scholar and the embodiment of the American dream....To conservatives, Sotomayor is a liberal activist who uses the courts to impose her personal views."
During the second segment, Cuomo asked ABC News legal correspondent Jan Crawford Greenburg, "Time will tell, but in terms of the record, nothing is sticking out there in terms of, here is a line of thinking, or judicial philosophy, that Sotomayor has come up with that's controversial?" Greenburg focused on the "empathy" trait emphasized by President Obama:
JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: On that federal appeals court, she's done a lot of technical, business cases, like you said, not a lot of those hot button issues. But President Obama, in a way, teed this up pretty nicely for Republicans by saying he was looking for empathy. So now you're going to see a lot of the Republicans kind of scouring her record for any clues on where she might have relied on her feelings, instead of just looking at the law -- which conservatives, of course, say is -- that's what you're supposed to do.
Correspondent Claire Shipman's report on Sotomayor's personal background was the most glowing of the three segments. It had all the marks of a human interest story:
CLAIRE SHIPMAN: Even as a little girl, growing up in a drug-ridden South Bronx housing project, stricken with juvenile diabetes, she had that trademark knack: instead of seeing dead ends, young Sonia saw possibilities; instead of giving up, she investigated every angle....Friends say her family and her Latina heritage are critical to her life....She's also an avid Yankees fan, a mean guacamole maker, and a fierce biker.
NBC's Matt Lauer, on Wednesday's Today show, greeted viewers with the following teaser: "Good morning, Supreme showdown. Republicans gear up for a fight over President Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the nation's highest court," and then asked the racially loaded question: "But will taking on the first Hispanic nominee cost them down the road?" Lauer and other Today correspondents repeatedly questioned if Republican opposition to Sotomayor would cost them Hispanic votes in upcoming elections. However no one on Today mentioned it was Democrats, back in 2003, who opposed the nomination, by Republican President George W. Bush of Miguel Estrada at the circuit court level.
[This item, by the MRC's Geoffrey Dickens, was posted Wednesday morning, on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
After Lauer first brought up the question in the teaser NBC's Natalie Morales and Chuck Todd then discussed the political peril of the GOP opposing the first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee:
NATALIE MORALES: Right. And, and Chuck, if a Senate confirmation is likely, which it appears it will be, don't, don't Republicans have to be very careful and they walk a very fine line on how they push back on this nomination?
CHUCK TODD: Well, they do. And what you've got here when you think about what happened in 2008 and the Hispanic vote, went two-to-one Democrat. And Republicans don't want to see their vote against Sotomayor to be seen as somehow anti-Hispanic. Now there will be some conservatives who believe there is plenty of fodder out there in her judicial record to go against her and, and they're gonna have to make that case carefully. But what they're afraid of -- and you talk to Republicans privately -- what they're afraid of is that somehow criticism of her will look anti-Hispanic and that will only create bigger political problems down the road in 2010 and 2012, Natalie.
Then, later in a segment with Senators Jeff Sessions and Chuck Schumer, Lauer brought up the issue again with the ranking Republican senator on the Judiciary committee:
LAUER: Senator Sessions, what about this tight rope that some are saying the Republicans have to walk during these confirmation hearings that you, you want to, want to hold this nominee's feet to the fire, you don't want to be a rubber stamp for the President's nomination of, of, of Judge Sotomayor, but, on the other hand, this is the first Hispanic nominee to the nation's highest court. And, and do you run the risk of alienating a large group of voters at a time when the Republican Party can ill-afford to alienate anyone?
To read about how the media reacted to Democratic opposition to Bush's nomination of Estrada back in 2003, see: newsbusters.org
After playing a clip of Rush Limbaugh charging Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor with bigotry and racism, Chris Matthews, on Wednesday's Hardball, implied Limbaugh was the racist as he asked guest panelist Jeanne Cummings of the Politico: "Is this the pot calling the kettle black?" To which Cummings responded that the radio talk show host was going to "chase" all the Hispanics away from the GOP: "Well all I know is it's the worst nightmare for the Republicans, I mean they're trying to calculate whether they should vote against her, how aggressively they should try to sort through her record and challenge her during hearings. And with things like that, and all that calculation to try to keep Hispanic support, even as small as it's gotten for Republicans. Rush Limbaugh can chase 'em all away in an afternoon with that kind of talk."
[This item by the MRC's Geoffrey Dickens, was posted Wednesday evening on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
The following is the full segment on the May 27 edition of Hardball:
RUSH LIMBAUGH: I have no doubt Sonia Sotomayor is going to be confirmed. None. Zip, zero. Nada. Nobody should be attacked because they're female or because they're Hispanic. My opposition to Sonia Sotomayor is based on the fact she's not a good judge. She's an angry woman. She's got a, she's got, she's a bigot. She's a racist.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: She's an angry, bigoted racist. Boy it's amazing what Rush Limbaugh will come up with these days. Jeanne Cummings is this the pot calling the kettle black or what the hell is going on here? Astounding charges.
The MRC launched a new Web site on Friday, so for a few days there will be a disconnect between the links in CyberAlerts for the online posting of each CyberAlert and where you can see screen shots and videos that illustrate each CyberAlert item. As always, you can click on the links to the NewsBusters posts to access the pictures and/or video.
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-- Brent Baker