60% wrong? Umm, no.

One of the right-wing attacks on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is that the Supreme Court has reversed her lower-court decisions sixty percent of the time.

Wow! Can she really have been wrong that often?

No, of course not. She wrote 380 rulings for the court. Of those, five were accepted for review; of those five, three were reversed. So she was reversed, not on three of five rulings, but on three of 380. Not 60 percent, but 0.8 percent.

Statistics don’t lie. Pundits who cite them do.

Still, how does that stack up? How often are other judges reversed? Well, the newest member of the court, Sam Alito, was reversed 100 percent of the time. (Two appeals, two overturns.) But hiding in the background is the reason for the Supreme Court. SCOTUS does not review, or even consider for review, every lower court ruling. In short, it undertakes for review only cases in which there is a strong probability of reversal.

Sotomayor, upheld forty percent of the time, is well above the norm.

For a clear, sensible appraisal of Sotomayor, read Ellen Goodman making the case for diversity on the Supreme Court.

Justice Scalia, for example, has insisted that his religious background has nothing to do with his legal opinions: “Just as there is no ‘Catholic’ way to cook a hamburger,” he said there is no legal decision spiced by his upbringing. True or self-deceptive? Justice Roberts, described as a “relentless champion of the overdog,” may see himself as the paragon of impartiality. It is only newcomers who are challenged as change agents.

The whole column is here. Read it.


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