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May 11, 2009

Anonymous dishes on Sotomayor, Wood, Williams...

Anonymous sources are at the heart of a much-discussed piece by The New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen, with the now-infamous headline The Case Against Sotomayor. In his response to critics, Rosen further cites the anonymous sources gathered in the invaluable Almanac of the Federal Judiciary.

So let's cut out the middleman and see what the Almanac says of Sotomayor and two other potential Supreme Court candidates, Diane Wood and Ann Williams of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.


The Good: Most lawyers interviewed said Sotomayor has good legal ability. "She is frighteningly smart. She is intellectually tough." "She is an exceptional judge overall." "She has a very good commonsense approach to the law." "She is engaged in oral argument. She is well prepared." "She is extremely hard working and always prepared."

The Bad: "She is overly aggressive -- not very judicial." "She really lacks judicial temperament. She behaves in an out-of-control manner. She makes inappropriate outbursts." "She is nasty to lawyers...she will attack lawyers for making an argument she does not like." "She can be a bit of a bully. She is an active questioner." "She is temperamental and excitable." "Her writing is not distinguished but is perfectly competent." "She asks questions to see you squirm."


The Good: "Judge Williams is perceived as the upcoming star of the circuit. She is extremely smart and savvy as to the law and its application." "Her legal ability is excellent. She has a great mind and is a great judge." "She is an incredibly smart judge with a comprehensive level of legal knowledge." "Her courtroom demeanor could not be better. She respects everyone and is excellent with lawyers." "Her questions are insightful and fact-based." "She is an excellent writer, mostly scholarly in style."

The Bad: Tellingly, there is no bad. The closest thing to criticism comes from a lawyer who says Williams is "sometimes moody." Other than that, rave reviews all around.


The Good: "She has an outstanding legal mind." "She is extremely smart and brings a breath of fresh air to the circuit." "Her legal mind is very sharp. She has a true feel for the job." "She has the perfect courtroom demeanor." "She has a nice way of conducting her business. Her demeanor is perfect." "She is forceful and factual during questioning." "She is very well prepared. Her questions go wherever she needs them to go." "Her writing is excellent and very scholarly."

The Bad: Again, as with Judge Williams, there is hardly a negative word to be found, unless you think it unfortunate that she "still has that slight government tilt." Other than that, total raves!

From this quick read, it appears Rosen may have been on to something with his piece, discomforting as it may have been...


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Judge Sotomayor has had a bullseye on her for awhile now. If you look at her earlier AFJ comments, they are much more positive.


Given what we have already seen Rosen do, it would not be surprising if some individuals have taken it upon themselves to try to harm Judge Sotomayor's reputation by submitting anonymous comments to the AFJ.

Michael Doyle

An interesting question raised, about the degree to which the anonymous comment portions of the Almanac can be gamed. At the least, a reminder of the danger of anonymous sources, fun as they can be to read...

Jim Rhoads a/k/a vjnjagvet

Any explanations for why Sotomayor is the only one of the three that has critical comments?

For you Second Circuit scholars:

Are her opinions significantly any further to the right or left than Woods or Williams?

Is there any reason she would be a significantly better Justice than Woods or Williams?

A Hermit

Sounds to me like Sotomayor is smart, capable, hardworking and doesn't doesn't have much patience for lawyers who aren't as smart, capable and hardworking as she is.

And apparently the ill-prepared, not so bright ones don't like it when she points out their shortcomings.

In my books that makes her the best choice...


Hilarious. Like a Zagat guide, the Almanac comments are essentially worthless. Williams is known for taking forever to produce opinions, largely because of her many outside commitments (serving on boards, etc). Wood is bright, but tied with Easterbrook for most overbearing/self-indulgent questioner on the circuit.


At least at the district court level, the AFJ editors ask judges for references to attorneys who have appeared before them and use those attorneys as a starting point for the reviews. If this is true at the circuit level, the idea that there is a multi-year whisper campaign against SS seems far fetched; the very lawyers her chambers identified would be the ones who panned her.

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"Suits & Sentences" is a legal affairs blog written by Michael Doyle, a reporter for McClatchy's Washington Bureau. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Yale Law School, where he earned a Master of Studies in Law; he also earned a Masters in Government from The Johns Hopkins University with a thesis on the Freedom of Information Act. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

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