Saturday, May 30, 2009

Don't Exaggerate

UPDATE: below

I'm a frequent critic of liberals who misuse statistics or lead with empty logic. Yet those of us devoted to neutral principles have an especial obligation publicly to reject conservative overreaching.

The latest such example is Stephen Dinan's op-ed in Wednesday's Washington Times:
Sotomayor reversed 60% by high court

With Judge Sonia Sotomayor already facing questions over her 60 percent reversal rate, the Supreme Court could dump another problem into her lap next month if, as many legal analysts predict, the court overturns one of her rulings upholding a race-based employment decision.

Three of the five majority opinions written by Judge Sotomayor for the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals and reviewed by the Supreme Court were reversed, providing a potent line of attack raised by opponents Tuesday after President Obama announced he will nominate the 54-year-old Hispanic woman to the high court.

"Her high reversal rate alone should be enough for us to pause and take a good look at her record. Frankly, it is the Senates duty to do so," said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America.
Sounds bad, right?

Well, it's false and misleading, as Powerline's John Hinderaker observes:
[T]he statistic appears to be meaningless. It relates only to Sotomayor's decisions as to which a petition for a writ of certiorari was granted by the Supreme Court--a total of only five. (The overwhelming majority of such petitions are denied.) Of the five cases in which the Supreme Court granted the writ of certiorari, it reversed three. Not only is this a ridiculously small sample, the overall rate of reversal of cases in which the Supreme Court grants cert appears to be around 70 percent. This shouldn't be too surprising, as it requires four votes on the court to grant a writ of certiorari, and five to reverse the Court of Appeals' decision.
By contrast, the Wall Street Journal got the story right:
Although Judge Sotomayor has had a number of her decisions overturned by the Supreme Court, Judge Guido Calabresi -- who taught Judge Sotomayor at Yale Law School and is today her colleague on the Second Circuit -- said such reversals are typical.

"It's standard for what we do because most of the cases that go up [to the Supreme Court] are difficult," he said.
In any event, Sotomayor's record is far better than, say, the historically leftist Ninth Circuit (see pages 511 & 523).

Yet, Dinan's exaggeration allowed the left-wing press watchdog Media Matters to blast unprincipled conservative statistics. Similarly, while some conservatives sounded the alarm about Sotomayor calling appellate courts policy-makers, her full quote makes clear that she wasn't advocating an extra-judicial role. Omitting the full context opening the door for difficult-to-counter critique of Republican politicians.

Though Sotomayor's confirmation is virtually assured, there are legitimate concerns about her judicial philosophy that should be fully vetted in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Overstating the case against her only undermines such an inquiry--and taints the conservative cause.


In an excellent post, Wolf Howling agrees.

Continuing his practice of flip-flopping on Fridays, on May 29th, President Obama said "that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor regrets her choice of words in a 2001 speech in which she said a "wise Latina" judge would often make better decisions than a white male."


OBloodyHell said...

> in which she said a "wise Latina" judge would often make better decisions than a white male."

Actually, if that's what she said, exactly, then she's probably correct. On average, a wise anything will probably do better than the average anything else. My bet is, that's not the way she meant it, however...

Now, if only we could find a "wise Latina" for Obama to put forth as a possible SCotUS judge...

Carl said...

Agreed. Still, she's better than Harriet Miers.

Carl said...


See Rich Lowry's take on what she meant. . .