When Republicans and conservatives aren't on television suggesting Sonia Sotomayor isn't fit to serve on the Supreme Court (or just outright insulting her)--when they go home at night and seriously consider what's best for them and their movement--they should keep a couple things in mind:
First, that retiring Justice David Souter isn't really all that conservative. Second, that, notwithstanding her upbringing and all the cable chatter, Sotomayor isn't unusually liberal--which is to say, the political makeup of the court won't be radically altered when she replaces him. Third, that if they lock arms and pull out all the stops and somehow block her nomination, there are plenty of other liberal jurists--some more liberal than she is--to take her place.
Technically, Republicans come into the Sotomayor confirmation process in an extremely weak position. Their caucus is only 40 members large. Four of those members are women. One is hispanic. And their ranks are teeming with people who've loudly decried the idea of filibustering judicial nominees in the recent past.
Now that same crew is faced with the prospect of playing the opposition (loyal or otherwise) to a 54 year old Hispanic female with honors degrees from Princeton and Yale and heaps of experience on the bench. Not exactly ideal circumstances.
At the same time, though, they've proven perfectly willing to stand athwart other, similarly qualified Obama nominees, most of whom serve (or will serve) in the executive branch for only a few years at the most.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) released this statement today on the Sotomayor nomination, reminding us all that he voted against her confirmation to the appeals court in 1998 -- and apparently questioning whether she can make rulings independent of her race and gender:
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) made the following statement regarding President Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Inhofe was one of 29 U.S. Senators that voted against Sotomayor's nomination to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in 1998.
"Without doubt, Judge Sotomayor's personal life story is truly inspiring. I congratulate her on being nominated. As the U.S. Senate begins the confirmation process, I look forward to looking closer at her recent rulings and her judicial philosophy.
"Of primary concern to me is whether or not Judge Sotomayor follows the proper role of judges and refrains from legislating from the bench. Some of her recent comments on this matter have given me cause for great concern. In the months ahead, it will be important for those of us in the U.S. Senate to weigh her qualifications and character as well as her ability to rule fairly without undue influence from her own personal race, gender, or political preferences."
As Dana Goldstein points out, this does raise the question of whether Inhofe thinks the seven white men on the court are immune from any similar questions.
Mike Huckabee has some high praise for Michael Steele -- though it's not the most graceful acclaim ever given.
"I'm not sure anyone else could be as effective in challenging the Obama policies any more so than Michael," said Huckabee. The reason: "Well, I believe that that no one is gonna be able to use the racism charge."
Fun fact: Steele said last week Obama won with the help of the media -- who didn't vet him because he's black.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has some thoughts on Sotomayor, too. "Of primary importance," he says, "we must determine if Ms. Sotomayor understands that the proper role of a judge is to act as a neutral umpire of the law, calling balls and strikes fairly without regard to one's own personal preferences or political views."
Pretty standard stuff. But then he warns that the confirmation process might last beyond the fall, when the Supreme Court begins its next term.
President Obama has stated his desire to have a full court seated at the start of its next term, a reasonable goal toward which the Judiciary Committee should responsibly and diligently move. But we must remember that a Supreme Court justice sits for a lifetime appointment, and the Senate hearing is the only opportunity for the American people to engage in the nomination process. Adequate preparation will take time. I will insist that, consistent with recent confirmation processes, every senator be accorded the opportunity to prepare, ask questions, and receive full and complete answers.
That's not outrageous, but it should be noted that the confirmation processes for Justices Roberts and Alito lasted about two and three months respectively. If that's the window Sessions has in mind, I'm sure Judge Sotomayor would be much obliged.
Late update: Just as a point of reference, when Roberts and Alito were under consideration in the Senate, Sessions took care to refer to bothmen as judges in his press releases.
Earlier today, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) called in to MSNBC to raise concerns about a judge whom he's supported twice.
Hatch cites, among other things, an article Sotomayor wrote in 1996--two years before he supported her confirmation to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. But, he says, the Supreme Court is a different thing altogether.
As a senior, and influential, member of the Judiciary Committee, Hatch will have significant sway over how quickly and smoothly the coming confirmation process moves forward.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE)--who's been giving Barack Obama a tough time of late--has released a statement on the Sotomayor nomination. "President Obama is to be commended for selecting a nominee with a significant breadth and depth of legal experience to replace retiring Justice David Souter," Nelson says, "I look forward to learning more about Judge Sonia Sotomayor's background, record and qualifications -- and to meeting with her to discuss her judicial philosophy -- as this important United States Supreme Court nomination moves forward."
Nelson supported both of George W. Bush's Supreme Court nominees, and gave the previous President wide latitude on judicial and executive nominations in general. But in recent weeks he's become a key obstacle to the confirmation of Dawn Johnsen, who Obama nominated to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel months ago.
Former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) has released a statement on the Sotomayor nomination, promising to make a thorough review of her record -- as soon as he's re-elected:
ST. PAUL - Senator Norm Coleman today released the following statement in response to President Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court.
"When debating judges, I was firm that I would use the same standard to evaluate judges under a Democrat President as I would a Republican President. Are they intellectually competent, do they have a record of integrity, and most importantly, are they committed to following the Constitution rather than creating new law and policy. When I am re-elected, I intend to review Judge Sotomayor's record using this process. Certainly, the nomination of a Hispanic woman to the nation's highest court is something all American's should applaud."
In all fairness to Coleman, Al Franken has also released a statement on the Sotomayor pick. On the other hand, as my TPM colleague Justin Elliott pointed out to me, Coleman's blog page shows that nearly all the posts over the last several months have been focused on his legal battle against Franken's victory, with barely any other comments on serious current issues.
When Barack Obama arrives in Los Angeles tomorrow, he'll be greeted by this ad.
The spot is also scheduled to air in the Sacramento and Fresno media markets.
The Service Employees International Union is trying to prevent the California government from significantly slashing the wages of home health workers, and want the Obama administration back on board. The White House had originally threatened to withhold billions of dollars in stimulus money from the ailing state if they went through with the cuts, but ultimately backed off, leaving workers without much leverage or national support in their effort to get the cuts overturned.
John Yoo, the former Justice Department official who helped craft the legal rationales for the Bush Administration's "enhanced interrogation" regime, has come out strongly against Sonia Sotomayor -- on the grounds that she could decide cases on the basis of outcomes rather than the law:
Conservatives should defend the Supreme Court as a place where cases are decided by a faithful application of the Constitution, not personal politics, backgrounds, and feelings. Republican senators will have to conduct thorough questioning in the confirmation hearings to make sure that she will not be a results-oriented voter, voting her emotions and politics rather than the law.
In other breaking news, John Yoo has absolutely no sense of self-awareness.
The subjective question of a nominee's fitness to serve on the Supreme Court is one that perennially gets too much attention, but that should ideally fall to respected and trained legal thinkers, capable of evaluating complicated writings and other signs of merit. So, naturally, cable news channels are leaving it to panels of law professors obscure Democratic and Republican "strategists" to evaluate of Sonia Sotomayor.
Chris Wilson--the Republican strategist--cited the Rosen article directly but it didn't get him very far; a sign perhaps that, at least on MSNBC, they've come to understand the anatomy of the Sotomayor whisper campaign. Or, perhaps, it's a sign that Wilson isn't as savvy a smear artist as are other GOP strategists. He also claimed, for instance, that Sotomayor was originally nominated to federal district court by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, but, of course, that power belongs to the President alone (at that time George H.W. Bush) and not to members of the Senate.