The XX Factor

The Mediocrity of Diversity

Emily, you are so right that Jeff Rosen’s unsupported whispers about Judge Sotomayor have become the conventional media wisdom in three short days. But more troubling still, he seems to have been arguing that female jurists are by definition “mediocre” for more than a decade! Here’s a piece he did for the New York Times in 1995, arguing that President Clinton’s “single-minded pursuit of diversity, combined with an eagerness to avoid controversy, has kept him from appointing the best available legal minds to the courts.” He then names the many, many white men passed over for federal judgeships and contends that liberal judges lack the intellectual firepower to challenge brilliant conservative jurists because “nearly 60 percent of the Clinton appointments have been minority members and women.” (Read: mediocre.) His single data point to illustrate that mediocrity: Instead of appointing a serious intellectual heavyweight to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (a/k/a “The scholars Court”), Clinton tapped “Diane P. Wood, a little-known professor of antitrust law at the University of Chicago, who is currently an assistant to Deputy Attorney General Anne Bingaman.”

That same mediocre Diane Wood is not only on every shortlist for the Supreme Court today. She’s also widely regarded as one of the finest judges on the bench, to whom other brilliant judges turn for reviews of draft opinions. I don’t begrudge Rosen or other white men who feel they are always the bridesmaid. But the suggestion that a diverse bench must inevitably be a second-rate bench is really quite shocking, even 15 years later.