NYT Notes Sotomayor Called Herself "A Product of Affirmative Action"

The Times keeps poking at race issues in its coverage of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. But why so many "conservative" labels?

The Times seems to be the first media outlet to start digging into the video cache Judge Sonia Sotomayor provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee in preparation for her Supreme Court confirmation hearing in July. One news bomblet: Sotomayor admitted to benefiting from affirmative action.

Legal reporter Charlie Savage dug into the tapes and emerged with the "Videos Reveal Sotomayor's Positions on Affirmative Action and Other Issues."

Good for the Times for continuing to probe the ethnic angle, always a touchy subject for liberals - although Savage's story was strewn with the usual biased labeling, which made the criticism look as politicized as possible.

JudgeSonia Sotomayoronce described herself as "a product of affirmative action" who was admitted to twoIvy Leagueschools despite scoring lower on standardized tests than many classmates, which she attributed to "cultural biases" that are "built into testing."

On another occasion, she aligned with conservatives who take a limited view of when international law can be enforced in American courts. But she criticized conservative objections to recentSupreme Courtrulings that mention foreign law as being based on a "misunderstanding."

Those comments were among a trove of videos dating back nearly 25 years that shed new light on Judge Sotomayor's views. She provided the videos to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week as it prepares for her Supreme Court confirmation hearing next month.

The clips include lengthy remarks about her experiences as an "affirmative action baby" whose lower test scores were overlooked by admissions committees atPrinceton Universityand Yale Law School because, she said, she is Hispanic and had grown up in poor circumstances.

"If we had gone through the traditional numbers route of those institutions, it would have been highly questionable if I would have been accepted," she said on a panel of three female judges from New York who were discussing women in the judiciary.The videois dated "early 1990s" in Senate records.


Judge Sotomayor's approach to affirmative action has been the subject of intense scrutiny. Conservatives have criticizedher remarks in speechesthat her personal experiences will influence her judging, and they have focused on hervote to uphold a decision by New Havento throw out results from a firefighters' exam because not enough members of minorities scored well.

After Savage explained that Sotomayor might be "more conservative" than retiring Justice David Souter on the issue of applying foreign and international law to U.S. cases, Savage threw in more labels:

Still, Judge Sotomayor also criticized conservative attacks on Supreme Court decisions in recent terms that mentioned foreign law - including decisions striking down the death penalty for juveniles and striking down a Texas law barring sodomy.

"In both those cases the courts were very, very careful to note that they weren't using that law to decide the American question," she said. "They were just using that law to help us understand what the concepts meant to other countries, and to help us understand whether our understanding of our own constitutional rights fell into the mainstream of human thinking."

Although her opponents are invariably called "conservative" in the Times, the paper has yet to directly call Sotomayor a liberal. As close as the Times gets are hints that she may have once fit that political label, like this from June 5:

Ms. Sotomayor's political persona hewed carefully to the contours of New York, liberal but not particularly ideological.

And this from June 7, comparing her to Clarence Thomas (perhaps the only time you'll ever see Thomas characterized as a liberal in the Times!):

The two future judges led similar student organizations - Mr. Thomas helped found a black student group, while Ms. Sotomayor was co-chairwoman of a Puerto Rican one - and shared the same liberal politics. They graduated at the top of their classes. And afterward, they each headed to Yale Law School.

Meanwhile, her opponents have been bluntly and specifically labeled "conservative" dozens of times.