CBS’s Rodriguez Grills Former Sotomayor Clerk on Judge’s Record

Maggie Rodriguez, CBS On Wednesday’s CBS Early Show, co-host Maggie Rodriguez was unusually tough on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as she asked the judge’s former clerk, Julia Tarver Mason, about some of Sotomayor's past controversial comments: "...she, herself, has rejected the notion that a judge should decide cases based solely on facts and the law...referring to one case – she hopes that ‘a wise Latina woman would reach a better conclusion than a white male.’ What do you say to critics who say if a white conservative male had said that, he would have been booted out of the judiciary?"

Mason defended her former boss: "Well, I think that comment has been grossly misconstrued, frankly, it was a comment she made in a speech a decade ago, talking about the importance diversity on the court... when she decides a case, she decides it based on the law, as that's appropriate." Earlier Mason had argued that Sotomayor was "legal purist" and "...not someone who is going to try to reach a particular result in a particular case. She calls them straight down the middle, just like she sees them."

Rodriguez later followed up with a question about one of Sotomayor’s most controversial decisions: "Some of her critics are also bringing up a case where she sided against some white firefighters who claimed reverse discrimination in hiring practices...Rush Limbaugh has called her a ‘reverse racist.’ Could that be true?" Mason denounced Limbaugh: "That's an absurd notion. If – Judge Sotomayor is one of the most egalitarian people I’ve ever met...the fact that people from the right are throwing these outrageous allegations right now is just an indication that they don't know much about her record...it was not in any way a radical decision by her. And it was supported by the city of New Haven itself. So if you call her racist, you have to call the entire city of New Haven racist."

In contrast to Rodriguez’s tough questions about Sotomayor’s record, a preceding report by correspondent Bill Plante defended the nominee and went after her critics: "Sotomayor is for abortion rights, but there’s little or nothing in her record on same-sex marriage, church-state separation, or the death penalty. But conservatives are already painting Sotomayor as a liberal activist, a judge who’s agenda was captured in this speech." A clip was played of Sotomayor declaring: "Because it is -- court of appeals is where policy is made." Plante quickly added: "She quickly realized that saying making policy was a mistake." Another clip of Sotomayor was played: "Because we don't make law, I know. Okay. I know."

Plante went on to declare: "Most legal observers agree Sotomayor doesn’t have an agenda." A quote from left-wing George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley was featured: "I don't believe she's an activist. I don't believe that she shows great bias. But she has had some controversial decisions that she may have to answer for." Plante made no mention of Turley saying that Sotomayor lacked "intellectual depth" on Tuesday.

Plante briefly mentioned the New Haven firefighter case: "One controversial decision, a ruling denying promotion to white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut, because no black applicants passed the test." A quote from Wendy Long of the Judicial Confirmation Network was played: "I think it says that she has an ideological agenda that favors racial preferences and quotas."

Plante concluded his report by observing that any Republican opposition to Sotomayor was futile: "Now Senate Republicans are promising a fair hearing, but they have to walk a tightrope, trying not to offend Hispanic voters and women on one hand, while also trying and needing to rally their base. And in the end, Sotomayor is very likely to be confirmed in any case."

That same theme of futility in opposing Sotomayor was pushed later in the show by co-host Harry Smith, who asked Slate magazine’s John Dickerson: "Let's talk about the notion of a fight. Republicans have slowly been coming out, some voicing some opposition. Some saying, ‘we need time to – to deal with this.’ Eight Republicans in the past have voted for her confirmation to the bench. Is this a fight that Republicans really want to engage in?"

Dickerson explained: "That number eight is the crucial number. Those eight Republicans, if they are to vote against her, have to explain what changed their mind and that's a very tricky thing to do, particularly because, as we've been discussing, she is a Hispanic woman, and as a political matter, a crude political matter, you don't want to be seen to be voting against a Hispanic woman." At no point in the Early Show coverage was there a suggestion that Sotomayor was picked by President Obama purely for political reasons.

Dickerson later added: "We saw yesterday there were some harsh public comments from Rush Limbaugh and others. But the senators, who actually have to cast the votes, were much more measured in their responses."

Here is the full transcript of Rodriguez’s exchange with Mason:

7:04AM SEGMENT:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Joining us now from Washington is Julia Tarver Mason, a former clerk for Judge Sotomayor. Good morning, Miss Mason.

JULIA TARVER MASON: Good morning.

RODRIGUEZ: We just heard in that piece from people who do not know Judge Sotomayor. You, on the other hand, spent a year clerking for her as a federal judge. You know her both professionally and personally. So what can you tell her [us] as someone who does know her so well about the kind of justice she might be?

MASON: Well, as I've said many times, Judge Sotomayor is, if anything, a legal purist. She is not someone who is going to try to reach a particular result in a particular case. She calls them straight down the middle, just like she sees them. So I think she'll be a fair judge and I think she'll bring a wonderful insight and common touch to the Supreme Court that's badly needed.

RODRIGUEZ: You call her a legal purist but she, herself, has rejected the notion that a judge should decide cases based solely on facts and the law, and has said that her personal experience, and specifically her ethnicity as a Puerto Rican, would help her decide what's fair and what's not. She went as far, Miss Mason, as to say that she – referring to one case – she hopes that ‘a wise Latina woman would reach a better conclusion than a white male.’ What do you say to critics who say if a white conservative male had said that, he would have been booted out of the judiciary?

MASON: Well, I think that comment has been grossly misconstrued, frankly, it was a comment she made in a speech a decade ago, talking about the importance diversity on the court. And I think diversity of life experience and perspective is very important and few of us would argue with that. I think what she was trying to convey in that comment was that we all bring our life experiences with us, but when she decides a case, she decides it based on the law, as that's appropriate.

RODRIGUEZ: Some of her critics are also bringing up a case where she sided against some white firefighters who claimed reverse discrimination in hiring practices. We should say, by the way, one of those firefighters was Hispanic. But Rush Limbaugh has called her a ‘reverse racist.’ Could that be true?

MASON: That's an absurd notion. If – Judge Sotomayor is one of the most egalitarian people I’ve ever met. She treats people equally, no matter their background or ethnicity. I think the -- you know, the fact that people from the right are throwing these outrageous allegations right now is just an indication that they don't know much about her record. That case involved a decision by the city of New Haven, that was then upheld by the trial court and then was upheld further by the judge and her peers on the Second Circuit. So it was not in any way a radical decision by her. And it was supported by the city of New Haven itself. So if you call her racist, you have to call the entire city of New Haven racist.

RODRIGUEZ: It’ll be interesting to see if the Supreme Court overturns that. Julia Tarver Mason, thank you so much for your insight.

MASON: Thank you.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC