Judge Sotomayor stands out from among these people as one of the very brightest; indeed, she is in that rarified class of people for whom it makes sense to say that there is no one genuinely smarter. (Others who have stood out in this way in my experience would include Harold Koh, the former dean of Yale Law School, and Peter Railton, a moral philosopher at the University of Michigan.)I don't know Sotomayor or Koh personally, but I know Peter Railton. He was the dissertation advisor of one of my dissertation co-chairs, Brian Leiter. Spending time with him was one of the big reasons I left Texas for a year to be a visiting graduate student at Michigan. And, yeah. "It makes sense to say that there is no one genuinely smarter" is right. I didn't think that judges ever got the chance to demonstrate that they were in that league. Kar did his PhD at Michigan where Railton is, so he knows the man well. (Kar and I have overlapping scholarly interests, got Newcombe fellowships, and graduated magna from Harvard, so it's conceivable that our mutual Railton-admiration arises from an extremely surprising a posteriori identity between us.)
On the other hand, Jeffrey Rosen thinks Sotomayor isn't that bright. And I haven't read enough of his piece to get a confident sense of it, nor have I talked to enough of its detractors and supporters to get a fully balanced view of its strengths. But sources who will remain anonymous tell me that Rosen wrote it just because he wants sexists and racists to like him. And if that's good enough for an article in The New Republic, why isn't it good enough for a blog post?