An ‘incrementalist’ who embodies ‘judicial minimalism’

AN ‘INCREMENTALIST’ WHO EMBODIES ‘JUDICIAL MINIMALISM’…. Conservatives evaluating Sonia Sotomayor’s qualifications for the Supreme Court apparently believe the key areas of evaluation include everything except her rulings and years on the federal bench. The New York Times’ David Brooks doesn’t find the right’s caricature of the judge to be especially compelling.

She is quite liberal. But there’s little evidence that she is motivated by racialist thinking or an activist attitude.

Tom Goldstein of Scotusblog conducted a much-cited study of the 96 race-related cases that have come before her. Like almost all judges, she has rejected a vast majority of the claims of racial discrimination that came to her. She dissented from her colleagues in only four of those cases. And in only one of them did she find racial discrimination where they did not. Even with what she calls her “Latina soul,” she saw almost every case pretty much as they did.

When you read her opinions, race and gender are invisible. I’m obviously not qualified to judge the legal quality of her opinions. But when you read the documents merely as examples of persuasive writing, you find that they are almost entirely impersonal and deracinated. […]

To my eye, they are the products of a clear and honest if unimaginative mind. She sticks close to precedent and the details of a case. There’s no personal flavor (in the boring parts one wishes there were). There’s no evidence of a grand ideological style or even much intellectual ambition. If you had to pick a word to describe them, it would be “restraint.”

Before endorsing Sotomayor’s confirmation, Brooks argued that the judge is “a liberal incrementalist” whose “careful opinions embody the sort of judicial minimalism that Obama and his aide Cass Sunstein admire most.” Far-right nonsense notwithstanding, Brooks added that Sotomayor has “chosen to submit herself to the discipline of the law, and she has not abused its institutions.”

What effect will this have on conservative attacks, and the news outlets that treat their talking points as credible arguments? Probably none, but it’s nice to see the column anyway.