Monday, January 11, 2010

Hits and misses

I've just finished reading Lauren Collins's sporadically entertaining, generally shapless profile of Justice Sotomayor in the Jan. 11 New Yorker. Yes, this time I had all the pages. And there were a lot of them, because this article was really long. You know that feeling when you're reading an article that you think has gone on long enough, and you turn to a new page, and you look in vain to the lower right corner for the little box that marks the end? And then, when you see it keeps going, you say, "Oh, come on, how long is this?" I did that three times while I was reading this story.

It had its high points. Here is a sentence I particularly liked:
Scalia, a few years earlier, had become embroiled in a conflict-of-interest drama after going on a duck-hunting trip with Dick Cheney; Sotomayor once recused herself from a case because, she wrote, “I was a member of the BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc.”
An excellent comparison. Says a mouthful, with no need for elaboration. Unfortunately this economy of expression did not extend to the entire profile. In fact, here is an excerpt from the next paragraph that ticked me off:
Sotomayor’s mode of expression can be inelegant. Her writings are marked less by any special rhetorical force or philosophical clarity than by a prosaic approachability. In Farrell v. Burke (2006), she invoked Carrie Bradshaw: “The State’s definition of pornography as material depicting sexual conduct and ‘designed to cause sexual excitement,’ if applied, would cover not only materials such as Scum but also popular television shows such as ‘Sex and the City.’”
So by "invoked Carrie Bradshaw" you mean "displayed an awareness that Sex and the City is a popular show on television"? I know this is an attempt to be cute, but if Sotomayor's judicial opinions are really marked by "prosaic approchability," this isn't convincing evidence. More seriously, the mischaracterization of this quotation seems particularly irresponsible when you're talking about a woman who was smeared by political opponents as an intellectual lightweight. Because make no mistake: if a circuit court judge really did "invoke Carrie Bradshaw" in an opinion, say by quoting a braindead "insight" from that character's supposedly popular column ("It sometimes seems as if the pursuit of romantic commitment will end up having us all committed!"), then I would want someone to write an article for The New Republic about how said judge was too stupid for the SCOTUS. But that's not what happened here, thank God.

Collins takes a few swings at contextualizing and interpreting the infamous "wise Latina" remark, but they're all misses, it seems to me. And then there's this:
In all the commotion over Ricci and “wise Latina,” the senators had missed what was perhaps a more inflammatory statement. In 2000, at the graduation ceremony of the Bronx Leadership Academy, Sotomayor had said, “It is so exciting to be at the door of a major change in one’s life. That’s why brides and bridegrooms smile so much at weddings and why so many tears of joy are shed when a wanted child arrives”—her unprompted use of the phrase “wanted child” acknowledging the possibility that an expectant parent could feel otherwise.
I see what you did there, trying to think like a Republican operative, but that's...embarrassing. First of all, if the word "wanted" has you confused, try subbing in "longed-for." Get it now? Second, I didn't think it was possible to underestimate the Karl-Rove types who pretended to believe Sotomayor was a "bigot." But even they are not dumb enough to think the mere suggestion that some pregnancies are not "wanted" is "inflammatory." Trust me: the people out to gin up conservative sentiment against Sotomayor didn't "miss" that statement. They just knew it would be difficult to find anyone who'd object, even in bad faith, to the image of new parents shedding tears of joy over the birth of their child. News flash: pro-life people know that not all pregnancies are "wanted." Hey, maybe your next 80,000 word article could focus on that!

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