George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley distinguished himself during impeachment hearings on Wednesday as the sole witness offering something akin to a defense of President Donald Trump. We note that in 2009, Turley courted controversy by insulting the intelligence of future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Then-MSNBC host David Shuster read Turley’s criticism of Sotomayor out loud and asked him to elaborate on the insult.
“You wrote recently that ‘My main concern is the lack of intellectual depth in her past opinions.’ Explain what you mean by that.”
To which Turley replied:
I’ve read roughly about 30 of these opinions. She has a much larger library of opinions. But they are notable in one thing. And that is a lack of depth. There is nothing particularly profound in her past decisions. She’s been a judge a long time. That’s opposed to people like Judge [Diane] Wood on the Seventh Circuit — and she was viewed as a real intellectual powerhouse. You really can’t read the opinions of this nominee and say: “Oh yeah, this person is a natural choice for the Supreme Court.”
The flashback was originally noted by University of Baltimore Law Professor Garrett Epps.
Does anybody else remember @JonathanTurley appearing on MSNBC to explain that Sonia Sotomayor didn’t have the intellect to serve on the Supreme Court?
— Prof. Garrett Epps (@Profepps) December 4, 2019
Law&Crime reached out to Epps for his thoughts on Turley’s bizarre attack on Sotomayor.
“I remember there was a movement to block Sotomayor among a number of academics,” Epps said in an email. “Why I don’t know. I cast no aspersions on anyone’s motive; I don’t know Jonathan Turley. But I thought at the time and think today that it was an odd thing to say.”
Turley went on to say that maybe Sotomayor could surprise and might be able to reach her “speed and depth” after serving on the nation’s high court for awhile — analogizing Sotomayor’s alleged mediocrity to then-Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens.
Unprompted, the GOP’s eventual star witness then brought Sotomayor’s race and gender into the 2009 discussion on MSNBC:
“Liberals, obviously, are enjoying, rightfully, a certain short term elation with this twofer: a woman and a Latina being put on the court,” Turley said. “But in terms of long term satisfaction, she does not naturally suggest that she’s going to be the equal of [Antonin] Scalia. And I think that was the model for liberals. They wanted someone who would shape the intellectual foundations of the court.”
Shuster pushed back a bit on Turley’s claim, saying it was “obviously a big ‘if’” that Sotomayor might not leave a lasting intellectual impact on the court.
“Her past opinions do not suggest that she is like that,” Turley continued. “She actually — it suggests that she will be a great justice like Thurgood Marshall. She’ll be the first Latina. But I’ll remind you: Thurgood Marshall’s opinions did not have a lasting intellectual impact on the court.”
Marshall was the first African-American Supreme Court justice and is widely regarded as one of the most influential legal minds in American history.
Sotomayor, in her brief tenure on the court thus far, has distinguished herself as having perhaps the most lucid writing style of any current member and as the foremost defender of civil liberties and the rights of the accused.
[Image via screengrab/MSNBC.]