Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sotomayor's Bigoted Statistics

Via Donald "Arlon" Douglas, I found Sotomayor's Damned Statistics at Legal Insurrection, which purports to discredit the research by Tom Goldstein at SCOTUS Blog that showed that Sonia Sotomayor denied discrimination claims far more than she supported them. And William Jacobson at Insurrection begins his post with the cliche "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics," which excludes the fourth thing: People who trot out that tired cliche whenever they see statistics they don't like.

And sure enough, that's what Jacobson's up to. Because for as much as he'd like us to believe that Goldstein's stats are worse than damned lies, he fails entirely to do so. Because first off, he doesn't even seriously attempt to undermine them. Rather, the strongest attack he can muster is that they're "part of the evidence, but not conclusive." And well, duh. Nobody said they're "conclusive" and at best, Jacobson quotes people who said that Goldstein's analysis was "the best evidence" and "convincing evidence." But to my knowledge, neither of those phrases means "conclusive."

And that's as far as he went towards actually debunking Goldstein's supposed lies, which Jacobson also labeled as "meaningless" and "emptiness;" which I can only guess was simply more hyperbole to pretend as if his takedown was somehow stronger than it really was.

Alito and Sotomayor: Secret Activists

But even worse, the actual bit that Jacobson spends all his time contesting is simply wrong. He points to an analysis of Samuel Alito's decisions on individual rights, which showed that Alito decided against individuals 84% of the time. And he cites a quote from Ted Kennedy who suggested that this demonstrates that "average Americans have had a hard time getting a fair shake in his courtroom."

And I agree with Jacobson's logic here. He says that, unless we look into the details of these cases, we can't really know why he ruled against the individual. Perhaps it's because he hates individuals, or perhaps he was following the law; we can't really say based on these statistics. But...we can determine one thing: Alito didn't ignore the law to favor individuals. And unfortunately, Jacobson seems oblivious to this. The statistics weren't meaningless, they just didn't necessarily mean what Kennedy suggested they meant.

And in order to demonstrate that Kennedy's interpretation was faulty, he pointed out that Sotomayor's stats don't demonstrate that her dismissal of discrimination claims was evidence that she was hostile to minorities. And again, I agree with this. But as with before, the numbers do point to one thing: She didn't ignore the law to favor minorities. And seeing as how conservatives continue to attack Sotomayor as a judicial activist bigot who favors minorities, these statistics are entirely germane to the discussion.

While the statistics don't tell us why Alito ruled against individual rights or why Sotomayor ruled against minority rights, they clearly demonstrate that neither of them were activists who ignored the law in favor of these rights. Somehow, Jacobson entirely missed this point, even though it was sitting right in front of him.

And so not only did Jacobson fail to attack an actual person's argument, he couldn't even defeat the strawman argument he created. And instead of Jacobson taking apart Goldstein's post, as "Arlon" Douglas suggested he had, his comparison with Alito's statisics only help us better understand the usefulness of these statistics.

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