In its editorial today endorsing Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court, the New York Times makes a bizarre claim that, if true, is extremely troubling. Sotomayor, the paper claims, has not only “repeatedly displayed the empathy” espoused by President Obama, but gone a step further: “She has shown little patience for the sort of procedural bars that conservative judges have been using to close the courthouse door on people whose rights have been violated.”
Those “procedural bars” that the Times bemoans are no less important, and no less a part of our law, than the substantive law that the paper wishes to enforce. For example: nearly all criminal offenses include limitations periods after which the offense cannot be prosecuted. This protects those who might be accused of such offenses from prosecution long after exonerating evidence may have wasted away. Indeed, it is a vast body of procedural law that affords criminal defendants all the rights we hold dear: due process, jury trials, the presumption of innocence and high burden of proof, the appointment of counsel, and so on.
Would the Times have a judge toss these protections by the wayside when she just knows that the defendant before her is guilty? Might as well dispense with the trial altogether.
As the Times tells it, that’s Sotomayor’s practice when favored parties—those apparently deserving of “empathy”—appear before her. “She has listened attentively to, and often ruled in favor of, people who have been discriminated against,” the paper gushes. But was that with or without a thumb on the scales of justice?
Ignoring inconvenient law to get desired results—in other words, favoring the rights of one party over those of another—is no way to judge. In the Times’ praise, those who respect the rule of law find a very serious accusation.