Monday, July 13, 2009



There are plenty of reasons to oppose the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, perhaps the most salient of which is her penchant for judicial activism and her curious apparent belief that people of some nationalities are wiser than others. Of course, many of those who raise the most strenuous objections to her “legislating from the bench” rather than “adhering to the law and the constitution” have absolutely no problem with judges legislating from the bench…as long such judges legislate the way these self-professed “strict constructionists” would like. Since hypocrisy is one of the hallmarks of the modern Republican Party, this should come as no surprise, but those few who genuinely object to Ms. Sotomayor on the grounds of her seemingly fuzzy views on the role of a judge have a valid point.

A perhaps equally valid, but far less publicized, reason to object to Judge Sotomayor’s ascension to the nation’s highest court is her finances. After a career of being on the public payroll, with only a brief interlude at a Manhattan law firm to bulk up her finances and wait for a judgeship to become available, including seventeen years on the bench, and having no children to support, Ms. Sotomayor has a total of $30,000 in the bank and $15,000 in credit card bills, in addition to over $350,000 in mortgages on a condo she bought for about that amount in 1998. So after paying her credit card bills, Judge Sotomayor has less than one tenth of one year’s salary in the bank after drawing that salary for over seventeen years. Many will doubtless wail and cry that federal judges don’t make all that much money, but most people can only dream of making the $150,000 plus salary Judge Sotomayor is pulling down, especially with the ultra-generous health care and pension benefits that come with the job. Yes, it’s expensive to live in New York, but the vast, overwhelming majority of New Yorkers get by on far less than a federal judge’s salary. Some even manage to put some money in the bank after paying their credit card bills in full every month. Not enough, of course, but some.

Perhaps there is a legitimate reason for Ms. Sotomayor’s shaky finances; she comes from a very modest background and maybe much of her salary has gone toward supporting family members who are having a hard time. Such an explanation (which, whether true or not, is bound to surface if the subject of her finances comes up in the hearings) would indicate a generous nature and would in many ways enhance her attractiveness as a Justice, unless, of course, such generous nature is taken too far in the area of, say, criminal law. But, if helping out her relatives is not the source of Ms. Sotomayor’s financial situation, it can only indicate to those who think like me not only gross financial irresponsibility but a lack of character; frivolous, weak, and silly people throw money away, and we have enough frivolous, weak, silly people in Washington. Such a lack of character, reflected in her attitude toward money, is a more profound objection to Judge Sotomayor than the vulnerability to corruption that results from such shaky finances. Not only is the character issue more important, but Judge Sotomayor’s integrity has never legitimately been brought into question, and she has apparently been living on the financial edge her entire professional life.

Ms. Sotomayor, like most Americans, probably thinks her finances are in fine shape. (See the next, or last, depending on one’s perspective, post.) Why, she has $15 grand in the bank and manages to make the minima on her credit cards. Why should she deny herself the “frequent dinner gatherings and outings to watch dance, ballet, opera, and baseball” (Chicago Sun-Times, 7/13/09) that she cannot afford. After all, it is the American way to spend beyond one’s income, and she wants those things. And how can one be so audacious as to suggest that anybody in America not immediately buy anything s/he wants? So if her finances do come up, she will react with either profound puzzlement (So what’s the problem?) or high dudgeon (Who are you to question my finances?). If she does react with high dudgeon, Judge Sotomayor will have a point; it is a pretty safe bet that many of the Senators voting on her confirmation can only aspire to have their finances in such fine shape, on a relative basis, as those of Judge Sotomayor. The dystopic financial state of many of those who feel somehow qualified to set economic policy for our country, by the way, is one reason that Judge Sotomayor’s finances are unlikely to come up, unless hypocrisy is more endemic to the Senate than even I had thought.

None of this is likely to matter, however, to Judge Sotomayor’s nomination. Barring something really big, and unexpected, emerging from a closet somewhere, she is going to be our new Justice. Considering the Republican appointee (Please remember Justice Souter, if you are a conservative or libertarian, the next time some vacuum brained zombie from the GOP tells you that you have to vote Republican “because of the courts.”) she is replacing, her appointment will not be such an unfavorable development.


Julie said...

Judge Sotomayor's personal finances do leave a *lot* to be desired, though you offer some generous and plausible explanations. Still, short of the judge defaulting on her loans (or, worse, filing for bankruptcy), her debt levels shouldn't disqualify her. After all, it's not as if she has to plan for retirement!

The Pontificator said...


Thanks for the comment, Julie.

Judge Sotomayor’s financial situation which, while bad, is not as mule-gagging as those of many other Americans, and as those of many Washingtonians, and probably should not, and definitely will not, disqualify her for the Court. But, barring one of the less perfidious explanations I offered, her handling of her finances does give one pause about her character and, especially, her judgment. Wise people don’t p--- away money; silly and frivolous people do. So I suppose she will feel right at home in our nation’s capital.

I LOVE your comment on her not having to worry about retirement. We treat our public servants well, don’t we? This will become a larger issue as fewer of us receive traditional, defined benefit pension plans but have to pay for such perks for public employees.

Again, Julie, thanks for reading and commenting.

The Pontificator

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