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Sotomayor’s Biography Should Be Irrelevant

Randall Kennedy is a regular TNR contributor and the Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

I admire Judge Sotomayor and applaud President Obama for nominating her. She has built a distinguished career as a prosecutor, a private attorney, a trial court judge, and an appellate judge. Most importantly, she embraces the right values--by which I mean broadly liberal values--and thoughtfully and skillfully infuses her jurisprudence with those values.

She does have what people refer to as a "compelling American story." But that should play little if any role in assessing her suitability for the high court. The focus on biography--who one's parents were, difficulties surmounted, social distance traveled--has become a terrible distraction. Remember the "Pin Point [Georgia] strategy" deployed on behalf of Clarence Thomas? Or more recently, the hoopla over Sarah Palin's "compelling American story"?

The issue at hand is not what a nominee to the Supreme Court has overcome in her personal life. The issue is what a person thinks and how a person thinks in confronting the issues that matter most in our time.

--Randall Kennedy