Commentary Magazine


The ACORN Doesn’t Fall Far

Below the surface of the daily news coverage, Senate Republicans have been struggling to get documents from PRLDEF, the liberal civil rights group in which Sotomayor held a variety of leadership positions for a dozen years. It seems odd, at first blush, that there should be a tussle over a group whose public positions on a variety of issues are well known and in which Sotomayor played such a central leadership role. Why fight over boxes of old letters and legal briefs? At first, many speculated that this might have been problematic because it would feed the racial preference storyline and breathe new life into the “wise Latina” remakrs. But maybe it is far more explosive.

Roll Call buries the lede on this one:

The PRLDEF on Tuesday turned over a number of documents that could become political flash points, including papers on the organization’s work with the nonprofit Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now during Sotomayor’s time with the PRLDEF. ACORN has become a major rallying cry for conservatives after allegations that its organizers falsified voter registration forms in the 2008 election. The mere mention of ACORN in association with Sotomayor — regardless of how significant her involvement with the group was — will almost certainly intensify opposition to her high court installment from conservatives on and off Capitol Hill.

Ya think? Well that would be problematic.

And as for any suggestion that Sotomayor wasn’t all that connected to the group? Hogwash. Her questionnaire lists her various posts: “Member and Vice President, Board of Directors Chairperson, Litigation and Education Committees.” The New York Daily News describes her as taking on “an increasing amount of leadership on the Board” in the 1980s. The New York Times reported:

“She just believed in the mission,” Luis Alvarez, a former chairman of its board, said of Ms. Sotomayor. “This was a highly refined group of individuals who came from the premier academic institutions. It was almost like Camelot. It was a wonderful growth period.”

But Ms. Sotomayor stood out, frequently meeting with the legal staff to review the status of cases, several former members said. And so across her 12 years on the board — she left when she was appointed a federal judge in 1992 — she played an active role as the defense fund staked out aggressive stances on issues like police brutality, the death penalty and voting rights.

The board monitored all litigation undertaken by the fund’s lawyers, and a number of those lawyers said Ms. Sotomayor was an involved and ardent supporter of their various legal efforts during her time with the group.

This is all the more reason to insist on a complete and thorough review of the PRLDEF documents. What did Sotomayor do for PRLDEF, what is the “mission” she believed in, and why is the organization now playing interference for her? Good questions for the Senate Judiciary Committee.