"It" is the passing along of baseless, sourceless anecdotal information about an individual that puts her in a bad light. And this is what's happened in the case of Sonia Sotomayor, a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. She's one of a handful of potential Supreme Court nominees to fill the seat being vacated by David Souter, and many believe she's the front-runner. Because of this, she's attracting all kinds of media attention, and an article by Jeffrey Rosen for The New Republic, has caused an uproar.
As I wrote yesterday, it's this sort of public search for dirty laundry that legal issues commentator Dahlia Lithwick says makes prominent and capable women gun shy about being considered for the Supreme Court. Less than four days into the "Who'll Replace Souter?" show, Sotomayor's being dragged through the mud due to Rosen's article, which critics say is based on anonymous gossip.
Glen Greenwald, a former constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York, writing for Salon, is horrified at the damage done:
I'm genuinely amazed at how -- overnight -- she's been transformed in conventional wisdom, largely as a result of Rosen's piece, into a stupid, shrill, out-of-her-depth Puerto Rican woman who is being considered for the Supreme Court solely due to anti-merit, affirmative action reasons....Are 'they' going after her early and hard because she's the perceived front-runner? Because she's Hispanic? Or because she's a woman? Would there be this same type of gossip-based coverage if the subject were male?
The amazing speed with which so many people who know absolutely nothing about her are willing, indeed eager, to assume that she's stupid and doesn't deserve her achievements -- based on the fact that she's Puerto Rican and female and Rosen published some trashy, unaccountable gossip feeding that perception -- is really remarkable.
My perception of Sotomayor is almost the exact opposite of the picture painted by Rosen....I found her to be extremely perceptive, smart, shrewd and intellectually insightful. The image that has been instantaneously created of her as some sort of doltish mediocrity, based on nothing but Rosen's water-cooler chatter, is, at least to me, totally unrecognizable.
Whatever you believe regarding the above, there's a certain justice in the fact that this particular "he said" debate is occurring between male combatants; if two women were involved, the whole thing might simply be dismissed as a catfight.
We're still 1-2 months away from the nomination itself, and the mudslinging has begun. It's looking like the summer of 2009 won't be a good season to wear white.