White House rounds up friendly Sotomayor sources for reporters

As part of its effort to sell Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, the White House Wednesday took the unusual step of arranging a conference call for reporters with a variety of outside legal experts who support the nominee.

The call was part of a sophisticated strategy to build support for President Obama’s first nominee to the high court. As part of the plan, on Tuesday the White House held a background briefing for reporters where administration officials explained the President’s selection and sung Judge Sotomayor's praises.

A number of reporters protested ground rules which kept the administration officials from being identified, even though they were also making some of the same arguments on camera for cable news outlets.

Not a discouraging word

The conference call Wednesday afternoon was the first time in memory when the press office has arranged for nongovernment officials to brief reporters. Five legal experts delivered brief remarks about Judge Sotomayor’s qualifications. Without exception, they spoke in glowing terms during a call that lasted slightly longer than half an hour.

Harvard Law Professor Martha Minow, a Yale Law School classmate of Sotomayor’s, opened the session by calling the nominee “a superb appointment -- a lawyer’s lawyer.”

Another Yale law classmate of Sotomayor’s, Paul Smith, a partner at the firm Jenner & Block, chimed in to say the nominee “cares about the craft” and is “a careful person who can go either way” on controversial issues.

A non-Yalie's view

William Marshall, a professor the University of North Carolina School of Law, quipped that he did not go to school with the nominee. He called Sotomayor “a cautious lawyer” and one who “cares a lot about the craft.”

A professor at the University of Colorado School of Law, Scott Moss, opined that the nominee was “not a judge who goes out on a limb” to advance her own views of the law.

Before opening the session up for questions, the final prepared remarks came from Kevin Russell, a partner at Howe & Russell and an author of the influential SCOTUSblog.  He said Sotomayor embodied “judicial modesty” and has “shown herself to be very respectful of precedent.”

Bullying from the bench?

The most pointed portion of the question and answer session came when attorney Russell addressed criticism that Judge Sotomayor could bully lawyers who appear before her. Russell said that Sotomayor does not suffer fools gladly. He added that it is “predictable that some of those fools will complain about it.”

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