Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Designee

Court nominations, with the Supreme Court at the top, are arguably the most lasting impact that a President makes. Supreme Court justices can serve 20, 30 or even 40 years and shape constitutional and federal law in an extensive way.

Yesterday, President Obama announced his pick to replace retiring Associate Justice David Souter, Sonia Sotomayor of the 2nd Circuit Federal Appeals Court.

I happen to think this is an outstanding pick for a number of reasons, both real and political.

First, Judge Sotomayor is incredibly qualified to be on the court. She has an A.B. from Princeton and her J.D. from Yale Law School. She served 6 years on the Federal District Court of New York. She has served on the 2nd Circuit for over 10 years. You really couldn't write a better resume, experience wise.

Second, her personal story is incredibly compeling. A child of Puerto Rican immigrants, growing up in the poorest neighborhoods of the South Bronx and rising to the top of her profession. Her obvious love for her mother. Whether you like her appointment or not, it is hard ot argue with her story.

Third, while liberal, she is not overly controversial. Sure, some Republicans will try to make hay over a reverse discrimination case that she had reversed on appeal. Sure, there is some old video from a college forum where she suggests that courts make policy (as if that is some kind of secret.) But this is pretty darn benign stuff. She really hasn't ruled on any of the truly controversial issues of the day. Her opinions are certainly left-leaning but are fairly mainstream. There just really isn't that much for conservatives to rally against, although certainly the Christian right will try, as they presume (most likely correctly) that she would vote to uphold Roe vs. Wade. She was put in the Federal Judiciary by George H.W. Bush and then promoted by Bill Clinton, two pretty centrist guys in the grand scheme of things.

Fourth, she adds needed diversity to the court that is also politicially compelling. As I noted in an earlier blog, Hispanics are the largest minority in the country, now be a reasonably large margin. Yet she is the first Supreme Court Nominee of Hispanic Heritage. She is also only the third woman ever picked (okay, fourth, if you count a certain ill-fated Bush nominee.) None of this would matter if she were underqualified. But, trust me, it matters a lot to Hispanics and Women, both in feeling they have a stake in the system and in having role models for their daughters to look up to. It also puts the Republicans who would like to aggressively oppose her in a tough quandry. Hispanic voters will likely decide every national election for the foreseeable future. They voted in droves for Obama. Republicans need to reunite with the socially conservative Catholic vein that runs through the hispanic community. That becomes a lot harder if they trash a pillar of the Hispanic community, who also happens to be Catholic.

The President has requested of the Senate that hearings be held in time to seat Judge Sotomayor by the time that the SCOTUS comes back into session in July. Republicans have started to complain that this provides insufficient time to prepare, which, of course, is nonesense, since the Senate has already twice vetted her record for Federal appointments and over 2/3rds of the Senate is still there from the last vote.

My prediction: there will be some grand-standing by conservative Senators in very safe states. There will be others who quietly vote against her. But in the end, moderates like Snowe and Collins, moderate-conservatives like Murkowski and Graham and conservatives who have consistently held the belief that qualified nominees should be pushed through even if they are not ideologically aligned such as Hatch and Hutchinson join every Democratic Senator (Nelson being the only potential hold-out) to push her nomination through with 70 votes or so. No serious attempt at a fillibuster will be made because the votes aren't close and Republicans would rather save themselves the embarrassment on a public about-face on fillibustering judges when they have no chance of winning the fight.

Welcome to the court, Judge Sotomayor.

With Sotomayor on the court, Obama will have his first Supreme Court appointment to join a court that will be comprised of 2 appointed by George W. Bush, 2 appointed by Bill Clinton, 1 appointed by George H.W. Bush, 2 appointed by Ronald Reagan and 1 appointed by Gerald Ford. The party appointment will shift from 7 Republican-appointed and 2 Democratic-appointed to 6 Republican-appointed and 3 Democratic-appointed, although it will likely not disrupt the ideological balance of 4 judicial liberals, 4 judicial conservatives and 1 key moderate (Justice Anthony Kennedy) for although David Souter was appointed by George H.W. Bush, he has largely aligned with the liberal wing of the court.

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