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Ron Radosh

Judge Sotomayor and The New York Times: A Strange Omission

July 1st, 2009 - 4:39 pm

So the question is: why did the New York Times delete the sentence? It was the young Sotomayor herself who wrote the words in her senior thesis about the books she used. Did her people phone the paper and ask that it be deleted from future editions, or did the paper’s editors realize it made themselves and their reporter look bad, and fearing that it might hurt the judge, remove it before too many people noticed?

As for Judge Sotomayor at Princeton, one must acknowledge that she wrote her thesis thirty years ago. People change their ideas and their politics, and whatever she thought then- and she clearly was sympathetic to the Puerto Rican left-wing and its call for independence- her early views cannot be held against her. Lots of sensible people (I include myself) developed allegiances to very questionable political movements when they were in college, and many of them outgrew their early views as they advanced in age and knowledge.

Writing in The Ninth Justice, legal reporter Stuart Taylor Jr. and his colleague K.C. Johnson of Brooklyn College’s History Department, evaluated the thesis. Johnson read it in its entirety, and as a historian, said he would have given it an A or at least an A-. He termed it “solidly researched and fairly well written,” although he had a few caveats, which he calls “jarring elements.” In particular, Johnson found that she wrote as a Puerto Rican nationalist who favored independence, a position espoused by a scant 0.6 % of the population in the island. And that cause was favored fiercely by the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, which defined itself as a Marxist-Leninist group. (i.e., Communist) Johnson also wrote that she called the Congress “The North American Congress” and the “mainland Congress” in the thesis, which he sees as “bizarre. ” It as if the Supreme Court in which she seeks to become a Justice would be called the “North American Supreme Court.” Johnson calls this language “trendy, and not uncommon, among the Latin Americanist fringe of the academy.”

Finally, Sotomayor opposed Munoz Marin’s so-called “Operation Bootstrap” as a colonial venture that would keep Puerto Rican dependent upon the United States, something Johnson terms “wholly unsupported by the evidence that she presented in thesis” as well as “by virtually any evidence that has appeared since that time.”

Later, in a 1979 Yale Law School journal article, Sotomayor had shifted from a proponent of independence to what law professor Roger Alford has called an “affirmative action plan for Puerto Rico” statehood. He emphasizes that Sotomayor then still believed the island was a “small, economically poor dependency” that was in that condition due to the “American experience with colonialism.”

By any account, then, young Sonia Sotomayor considered herself sympathetic to the Puerto Rican fringe left-wing, and its campaign for independence. How does that, if  at all, color what stance she would take towards questions of affirmative action, and other legal issues that come before the court? When and why did she change her early views? These questions have not as yet been answered. And finally, again, why did The New York Times delete the reference to Sotomayor’s dependence on books using Marxist-Leninist analysis?

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