From Jo Becker and Adam Liptak in the New York Times:
Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s Supreme Court choice, has a blunt and even testy side, and it was on display in December during an argument before the federal appeals court in New York. The case concerned a Canadian man who said American officials had sent him to Syria to be tortured, and Judge Sotomayor peppered a government lawyer with skeptical questions. “So the minute the executive raises the specter of foreign policy, national security,” Judge Sotomayor asked the lawyer, Jonathan F. Cohn, “it is the government’s position that that is a license to torture anyone?” Mr. Cohn managed to get out two and a half words: “No, your hon—— .” Judge Sotomayor cut him off, then hit him with two more questions and a flat declaration of what she said was his position. The lawyer managed to say she was wrong, but could not clarify the point until the chief judge, Dennis G. Jacobs, stepped in, asking, “Why don’t we just get the position?” To supporters, Judge Sotomayor’s vigorous questioning of the Bush administration’s position in the case of the Canadian, Maher Arar, showcases some of her strengths. She is known as a formidably intelligent judge with a prodigious memory who meticulously prepares for oral arguments and is not shy about grilling the lawyers who appear before her to ensure that she fully understands their arguments. But to detractors, Judge Sotomayor’s sharp-tongued and occasionally combative manner — some lawyers have described her as “difficult” and “nasty” — raises questions about her judicial temperament and willingness to listen. Her demeanor on the bench is an issue that conservatives opposed to her nomination see as a potential vulnerability — and one that Mr. Obama carefully considered before selecting her. . . . In the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, which conducts anonymous interviews with lawyers to assess judges, she has gone from generally rave reviews to more tepid endorsements. Among the comments from lawyers was that she is a “terror on the bench” who “behaves in an out-of-control manner” and attacks lawyers “for making an argument she doesn’t like.” “I felt she could be very judgmental in the sense that she doesn’t let you finish your argument before she jumps in and starts asking questions,” said Sheema Chaudhry, who appeared before Judge Sotomayor in an asylum case last year.
“She’s brilliant and she’s qualified, but I just feel that she can be very, how do you say, temperamental.” Gerald Lefcourt, a New York defense lawyer, has dealt with Ms. Sotomayor since she was an assistant district attorney and later a federal district judge.
Mr. Lefcourt said she was “more strident and much more vocal” than some of her colleagues in his most recent appearance before her, involving an appeal of a securities fraud conviction. “She used her questioning to make a point,” he said, “as opposed to really looking for an answer to a question she did not understand.”