The Sotomayor Nomination
President Obama announcing his pick for David Souter’s Supreme Court seat today, choosing Sonia Sotomayor for the position. His choice was predictable—Sotomayor was known to be one of the finalists for the job—and the reaction on both sides to the choice was pretty unsurprising as well, as liberals tended to be happy, or at least content, with the pick, while few conservatives saw the Sotomayor pick as a good one.
Sotomayor is a safe pick for Obama—the White House compares her with David Souter, and while few consider Souter a really great justice, he was hardly a major voice on the Court. While Republicans won’t be happy with Sotomayor, they probably won’t (and can’t) go to any great lengths to block her nomination.
Even if Republicans aren’t willing or able to block Sotomayor, she still isn’t a very good pick. She is clearly a liberal judicial activist—she is on record saying that the Court of Appeals is “where policy is made.” According the New Republic’s Jeffery Rosen, her opinions, while decent, are hardly impressive, and she is considered (by some) to be obnoxious on the bench. Some of her decisions don’t look very good in retrospect—in a case involving white firefighters passed over for promotion in favor of less qualified black ones, Sotomayor issued a one paragraph statement that upheld the original decision and ignored any points made by the plaintiffs. (The case is now on its way to the Supreme Court).
Sotomayor’s views on race are another liability—her views come very close to being racist (or since they display a bias against whites, reverse racist). She has said that she “would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life,” which implies that white males can’t have rich experiences as well.
So, Sona Sotomayor is a very liberal judicial activist. Should Republicans fight her nomination? Those who favor opposing the nomination point to her many gaffes as opportunities to damage Obama’s reputation for good judgment, and possibly (with a lot of luck) force Sotomayor to withdraw her nomination, a la Harriet Myers.
On the other hand, others point out that Republicans don’t have the votes to vote the nomination down, and attacking the first Hispanic female nominated to the court could hurt Republicans among Hispanic voters.
I find the last theory unconvincing—if Republicans oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants, which they will for the foreseeable future, they will already have lost most of that portion of the Hispanic vote likely to be angry over their opposition to a Hispanic justice. Some observers think that Sotomayor was picked partially because Obama reasoned that Republicans would be wary of attacking a Hispanic. If so, he shouldn’t have worried, since Republicans would have a difficult time turning the Hispanic community against them any more than it already is.
There are, however, other considerations besides the Hispanic vote. Sotomayor is, at least from a conservative standpoint, an unqualified judge, and Republicans should take care to emphasize this. She should not be given a free pass; Republicans should underline her shortcomings.
However, it would only be counterproductive to expend too much political capital on opposing Sona Sotomayor. Whether or not one agrees with her judicial philosophy, she is an experienced jurist with lots of experience. While she will probably never be a major player on the Court, she will (unlike Harriet Myers) probably not be an embarrassment.
And even if Republicans wanted to oppose her, they don’t have a practical way to do so. By the time the nomination comes to a vote, the Democrats will almost certainly have sixty Senate seats, making a filibuster impossible. Trying to block the nomination would be impossible, and embarrassing in its futility.
If there is any bright side to the Sotomayor nomination, it is this: she just doesn’t seem very smart, at least not for a Supreme Court justice. Her decisions aren’t particularly good, she has a tendency to stupid things, and her personal life is more than a little eccentric—she has no family, so she bonds with her law clerks, hosting card games and movie nights, which seems like something out of The Office.
Barring something unforeseen, Sotomayor will be on the Supreme Court this time next year. Her selection is bad news for conservatives—but probably as good as they could hope for given the president and congress.