By Pete Williams Justice correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/28/2010 6:45:45 PM ET 2010-10-28T22:45:45

One of the nation's most respected Supreme Court scholars, Laurence Tribe of Harvard, suggested last year that President Obama not appoint Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court because she's not smart enough.

"Bluntly put, she's not nearly as smart as she seems to think she is," Tribe wrote in a letter to Obama in May 2009, the day after it became public that Justice David Souter intended to step down. Tribe wrote the letter to encourage Obama to nominate Elena Kagan for the vacancy.

As for Sotomayor, Tribe wrote, "her reputation for being something of a bully could well make her liberal impulses backfire and simply add to the fire power of the Roberts/Alito/Scalia/Thomas wing of the court."

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Kagan, he said, "would be a much more formidable match for Justice Scalia than Justice Breyer has been." Neither Breyer, he said, nor Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg "has made much of a purchase on Tony Kennedy's mind."

The letter was obtained by a conservative commentator, Ed Whelan, who wrote about it on National Review Online. In response, Tribe said he continues to regard the letter as confidential, even though it was obviously leaked. He stressed that he continues to hold Breyer and Kennedy in high regard and that his reservations about Sotomayor have been refuted by his own study of her record and her performance on the court.

Tribe is now serving in a position at the Justice Department to enhance the provision of legal services to the poor.

Obama nominated Sotomayor to succeed Souter; he nominated Kagan to succeed John Paul Stevens.

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