(CNN) – Previously confidential memos from Bill Clinton’s White House show how two women now on the Supreme Court were strongly criticized by administration officials at the time as they were being considered for key judicial positions.
Officials who worked for the confirmation of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in 1993 had serious reservations about her, according to the newly released documents from the William J. Clinton Presidential Library.
And in 1998, as Sonia Sotomayor was under consideration for a position on the U.S. Court of Appeals, a White House report described her as someone who posed "more problems than any of the other Hispanic judges sitting on the federal bench.”
Ginsburg’s ‘failure to make eye contact’
In a July 14, 1993 memo from Ron Klain to adviser David Gergen, Klain highlights what he thinks are potential “pitfalls” and “dangers” in Ginsburg’s preparation for her Senate confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court.
Among other things, Klain wrote the following: “When shown videotapes of confirmation hearing answers by Judges (David) Souter and (Robert) Bork to similar questions, Judge Ginsburg's reaction has been that Judge Souter ‘demeaned’ himself in giving ‘political’ answers, while Judge Bork was ‘unjustly crucified’ for his ‘candid’ responses.”
Klain also wrote that Ginsburg’s “hostility to the (confirmation) process - to the (Senate Judiciary) Committee's ‘victimizing’ of Judge Bork (on the one hand) and Anita Hill and Lani Guinier (on the other) - is evident. She believes (and may publicly state) that the current process should be replaced by the one used for Chief Justice Burger: a one-hour hearing with no substantive questioning.”
Klain also wrote that Ginsburg “has trouble addressing larger issues and speaking to core values.” In addition, he argued that “Ginsburg's technique” in delivering testimony, “her failure to make eye contact, her halting speech, her ‘laconic’ nature … is not helpful.”
He concludes his memo with the following warning: “You should be cautious in dealing with (Ginsburg)… Ginsburg views the White House's interest and her interests as being at odds with each other: she sees us as having a stake in presenting her as a moderate and in getting along well with the Senate; she sees her interests as ‘being herself,’ preserving her ‘dignity,’ and promoting her ‘independence.’”
Sotomayor faces criticism early on
The Sonia Sotomayor of 2009? A history-making Supreme Court nominee who sailed through the Senate on a bipartisan vote of 68-31.
The Sonia Sotomayor of 1998? A U.S. Court of Appeals nominee that a concerned White House report said had posed "more problems than any of the other Hispanic judges sitting on the federal bench."
Any future nomination to the Supreme Court, the report concluded, "may prompt a vicious attack from Senate Republicans."
Sotomayor's nomination by Clinton to the Second Circuit initially flew through the Judiciary Committee, with a vote of 16-2. But opposition grew as she (along with another nominee) sat in limbo for 18 months.
And so we come to the 1998 report, written the year she was confirmed.
No author name is attached to the assessment, which offers both praise and political caution. For example, it credits Sotomayor as having a strong professional career and unmatched educational credentials.
But it also bluntly cautions that Republicans saw the future Supreme Court justice as a "judicial activist" and that several "controversial issues" and concerns surrounded her nomination.
When asked about her decision to hear (and not dismiss) a discrimination case from a gay prisoner, the report concludes, "Unfortunately, Sotomayor's explanation that she is required by law to accept a plaintiff's claims as true... was expressed in somewhat condescending terms at her hearing."
Sotomayor's 1993 words criticizing mandatory minimum sentences and one sentence in particular as an "abomination” meant she was being targeted as "soft on crime.” The report also points to statements she made sympathizing with defendants as "victims of economic circumstances."
The report notes that her decisions never reduced sentences, but said that fact has often been "overshadowed" by her bench statements.
"The issues have, to date, plagued Sotomayor's nomination," the assessment concludes.
The author ended with some potentially back-handed compliments and a sharp prediction, writing, "Her fierce independence, and her no-nonsense style are admirable, but her nomination to the Supreme Court may prompt a vicious attack by Senate Republicans."
Sotomayor may have taken lessons from the assessment. In 2009, facing sharp scrutiny for her "wise Latina" remark, the future justice quickly disavowed the comment as a failed rhetorical flourish and began a charm offensive with both sides of the aisle.