RBG on Sotomayor: Wrote Schuette Dissent Because “Distressed” about Press “Reports” On Fisher

August 22nd, 2014

One of the most jarring, and dare I say demeaning, lines in Justice Ginsburg’s interview with Marcia Coyle was not directed at any of the conservative Justices, but her own colleague on the left, Justice Sotomayor. Usually, the issue of opinion assignment is one best left for speculation. Maybe, we think a Justice asks for an assignment because he or she has a special interest, or expertise, or passion in a certain area. Or maybe an opinion was assigned to the swing vote to keep a majority together. These are the kinds of things I am most comfortable finding out years later when papers are released.

But Justice Ginsburg’s explanation for why Justice Sotomayor wrote the dissent in Schuette (which only RBG joined) was disquieting–Sotomayor was upset by press reports about her in Fisher, and wanted to show people what she really thought about affirmative action.

NLJ: As the senior justice in dissent, you assigned to Justice Sotomayor the dissent in the court’s decision upholding Michigan’s constitutional amendment prohibiting the consideration of race in higher education. You and she were the only dissenters. She had joined the 7-1 decision two terms ago in the University of Texas case where race was considered as a factor in the admissions policy. The court sent that case back to the lower court to apply a stricter type of strict scrutiny. Why did you assign the Michigan dissent to Justice Sotomayor?

GINSBURG: She cared deeply about the issue. She might have been distressed about some of the reports in the Fisher [ v. University of Texas] case where she went along with the court. So if anybody had doubts about her views on affirmative action she wanted to quell them, which she certainly did.

It was an agreement between the two of us that she would write.

Oh my. This paints Justice Sotomayor in such a negative, damaging, and weak light.

First, what does it mean that she “went along with the court.” She joined the majority opinion. That’s a vote, not passive acquiescence. Granted the opinion was narrow, but Sotomayor could have dissented or concurred if she wanted too. RBG dissented. But Sotomayor didn’t. Perhaps the Justices wanted to build consensus for a narrow opinion. But that’s a vote! Why would Ginsburg characterize her in this manner?

Later in the interview, Ginsburg also diminishes Sotomayor’s vote by noting that she didn’t actually agree her decision to grant the stay in Little Sisters of the Poor, but then doubled back in Wheaton College.

She granted the stay in Little Sisters of the Poor [raising similar objections to the letter] because she was the Tenth Circuit justice. I think it was another case where she wanted to make clear what her view was. 

(I’ll come back to this in a different post).

Second, if true, it is scary that she is so responsive to press reports, that she wants to write a vigorous dissent to set them right. Justice Scalia and Thomas go out of their way to say they don’t read press accounts of the Court. They are lambasted for being out of touch. But that’s the point. They want to be insulated. Is Sotomayor that fragile and thin-skinned that she feels compelled to write an opinion based on what the media says. I would hope that a Justice would have more fortitude than to be so easily impacted by the press. She shouldn’t have to “quell” “doubts” of the chattering class.  And here, the coverage was mild. Compared that to the full court press on the Chief in NFIB!

But you know what? It worked. Attorney General Holder, with the backing of the White House, spoke glowingly of Sotomayor’s dissent. It was the talk of the town in D.C. And the press now knows they can impact a Justice. It’s one thing for us to speculate about it. But now the Justices confirmed it.

Third, this brutus attack comes from her friend. Et Tu Ruthy?

My opinion of Sotomayor and Ginsburg was significantly weakened because of this interview. Sotomayor, for being such a pushover from the media, and Ginsburg for making an unforced error and selling out her friend.