Aaron's Real Opinions:

Obama's Supreme Choice
by Aaron Harber
May 27, 2009- Print Article

Part 1: One Degree of Separation?

After receiving an e-mail from Wick Rowland, the CEO of PBS station KBDI-TV Channel 12, congratulating me for my early prediction that Second Circuit Appellate Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor ultimately would be President Obama’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy which will occur when Associate Justice David Souter retires, I then received a flood of e-mails from conservative, right-wing organizations rallying against Judge Sotomayor’s nomination. 

I was astounded at the rapidity and ferocity of the attacks --- being made only hours after the President announced his decision and introduced Judge Sotomayor to the nation.  I realized the Right had ample time to prepare --- despite the large number of names being floated by various supporters of many candidates --- but the rapidity of the attacks illustrated the fierce pace of politics in America today --- and how some contestants take a no-holds-barred approach to the process. 

I had sent Judge Sotomayor a premature message of congratulations some time ago and was pleased to see her ultimate selection despite (a) the introduction of many better-known names into the process and (2) a concomitant attack made on her when she originally was mentioned as a possibility.   

And, as the President mulled his decision, so many politically prominent names came to the fore --- selections who would have been very impressive and politically palatable nominees --- that I wondered how he would handle the pressure to select someone better known than Sotomayor.   

Nevertheless, I was confident Obama ultimately would select Sotomayor not only because she would be the first Hispanic member of the Supreme Court in the entire history of our nation but primarily because she truly was ideally suited for the position. 

My belief in Judge Sotomayor’s ultimate selection was based on the combination of her extensive judicial experience, her intelligence, her thoughtfulness, her even temperament, and her personal life story.  We attended college together but she was a year behind me and I knew her only superficially.   

I did get to watch her meteoric career, however, and was impressed with her constant stream of accomplishments.  She is now a Member of the Board of Trustees of our alma mater, Princeton University, and I was a Trustee and participated in the Commencement ceremony when she was graduated.  I watched as she received some of the University’s highest honors.  Now, many years later, I again am attending Commencement and will see her once more, albeit under draatically different circumstances. 

Part 2: Who Is Sonia Sotomayor?

The problem the Right will have with attacking Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination is she is not a leftist radical.  She has worked as a prosecutor and vigorously pursued criminal cases.  She has worked in private practice and represented corporate clients.  She has served as a trial judge (none of her soon-to-be colleagues ever served that capacity so that will add a needed dimension to the Supreme Court).   

Sotomayor was nominated by President George H.W. Bush for the federal bench and the by President Bill Clinton for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  She has made decisions which were considered “Pro-Life” and also has consistently supported the government’s position when it comes to law and order issues. 

Yet Sotomayor already is being described as the most liberal selection Obama could have made.  Such an accusation not only is silly but ultimately will undermine the credibility of her opponents.  This, in turn, will assure her successful confirmation by the U.S. Senate.  Why?  Because her opponents ultimately will look silly and no longer be taken seriously.   

This could have negative repercussions for the Right when Obama makes his second and possibly his third Supreme Court nominations.  Assuming Obama’s progress continues at even a modest pace, a Right weakened by self-inflicted wounds will not be able to serve as a counterbalance as Obama’s term progresses. 

Sotomayor also is being attacked for proposing in 2001 that her diverse background and experience make her a better judge than most white males without such a variety of experiences. She is being castigated as racist although her intent was to emphasize the range of her experiences rather than just her race.  She certainly could have phrased her premise better (because there are white males as or even more competent as she is) but whenever one includes race in an analysis, it should not be a surprise if controversy results. 

Perhaps her most provocative judicial decision is the recent one involving white New Haven, Connecticut, firefighters who scored high on a test and then watched as the city threw out the results because minority applicants had done poorly.  This case is being decided right now by the Supreme Court and certainly will be a focus of Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. 

The bottomline, however, is Sotomayor is a judge who has demonstrated a consistent, if not perfect, respect for the rule of law and who generally believes in the principles of precedent-setting via prior decisions.  While she certainly may be described as somewhat left-of-center, would any rational person expect Barack Obama to select a wild-eyed rightist for the Court? 

Part 3: The Republican Dilemma

The Republican Party faces an interesting dilemma because Judge Sonia Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic selected for the U.S. Supreme Court.  This comes at a time when the Party is trying to coax Hispanic voters to come back into the fold and even expand its Hispanic base further.  This base deteriorated as Hispanic voters were alienated by the strident cries of some Republican officials and candidates for tougher anti-illegal immigration policies.   

Ironically, many Hispanic voters are unenthusiastic about illegal immigration but they also are concerned about the manner in which illegal immigration opponents express themselves.  At times inflammatory remarks are made which fail to distinguish between those here legally and those who are here illegally.  And, of course, many Hispanic families have been citizens of the United States for generations --- having established residency long before many Europeans made it to the shores of America. 

If the Republicans are not careful, their attacks could be construed as anti-Hispanic --- further eroding what once was an important part of the Big Tent claimed by Republicans (which in recent years has approached Pup Tent size).  Judge Sotomayor’s selection and confirmation process could seal the fate of the Republican Party if the nation’s fastest growing major demographic feels she is being unfairly attacked.   

Perhaps the most surprising yet smartest strategy would be for Republicans to warmly embrace the President’s selection and support her through the confirmation process.  Now wouldn’t that be a first? 

Such a departure from the expectations of political pundits and the Press would endear Republicans to Hispanics and would lay a foundation for Republicans to sincerely object to a more leftist pick in the future. 

Recognizing Sotomayor is similar to the man she will be replacing, Associate Justice David Souter, Republicans might conclude this is a battle not worth fighting.  The U.S. Senate already has previously confirmed Sotomayor on two occasions for her current and past federal positions --- once when nominated by a Republican President and once when nominated by a Democratic President.  The Senate is highly unlikely to not confirm her again --- especially given the Democrats’ overwhelming majority in the chamber.   

Although just short of the 60 votes needed for cloture, it is almost as improbable there will be a need to stop debate.  Enough Republicans will realize their best strategy will be to keep their powder dry for another day.  Are they smart enough to trade short-term, knee-jerk reactions to Obama for a long-term opportunity to actually impact the nomination selection and confirmation processes?  The answer will become apparent soon. 

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