Conservative group compares Sotomayor to Ayers

A new ad says the judge "led a group supporting violent Puerto Rican terrorists"

Published July 15, 2009 12:45AM (EDT)

If you thought that President Obama's election last fall meant that we'd stop hearing about Bill Ayers for a while, you were, sadly, mistaken. A conservative group that opposes the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court has released a television ad comparing her to Ayers, and suggesting that she -- like the old Weather Underground member -- supports terrorism.

"Remember Barack Obama's buddy Bill Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist who bombed American buildings in the '70s?" a narrator asks at the top of the ad. "Turns out President Obama's done it again: Picked someone for the Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who led a group supporting violent Puerto Rican terrorists. Is this radical judge the type of person America needs sitting on our highest court?"

It's not clear that Committee for Justice has plans to actually air the ad, though it's soliciting donations to that end. Even if it does get the money together, though, it'll have a tough time getting stations to accept it, as it's extremely misleading.

The group the ad refers to is the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, which Sotomayor didn't actually lead -- she was on the board for 12 years, and was at one point the vice-president of the board. And saying it "support[ed] violent Puerto Rican terrorists" is a stretch, to say the least. The argument is based on two pieces of evidence, neither of them particularly strong.

The first is a 1990 quote from the organization's president, Ruben Franco, who was responding to then-New York City Mayor David Dinkins after Dinkins called three Puerto Ricans who shot five congressmen in 1954 "assassins." (The three had been pardoned and were at the time scheduled to appear in the city with Nelson Mandela.) ''He doesn't recognize that to many people in Puerto Rico, these are fighters for freedom and justice, for liberation, just as is Nelson Mandela, who himself advocated bearing arms," Franco said.

It is true that PRLDEF supported clemency for members of a Puerto Rican terrorist group, the Armed Forces of National Liberation or FALN. But the drive to get then-President Clinton to offer clemency to them, along with other Puerto Ricans who were part of an FALN spinoff group, didn't begin until after Sotomayor had left PRLDEF's board. And it's not like supporting clemency for those prisoners was a fringe position -- former President Jimmy Carter, the cardinal of New York and the archbishop of Puerto Rico were all on board, and Clinton eventually granted it. That move was controversial, true, but that still doesn't mean PRLDEF was alone in supporting it, or that it supports terrorists.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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