Will Sonia Sotomayor be confirmed as the newest Supreme Court Justice?
Sonia Sotomayor has become a controversial figure during the past couple of months. In fact, ever since she was nominated to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice David Souter, political pundits can talk of little else.
The conservative right want the concentration to be on her controversial “wise Latina” statement, a piece of her stump speech that indicates her belief that a Latina in America has had such a wide range of experience that she may be “more likely” to be a good judge than a caucasian. While not an overtly racist statement, it does indicate Sotomayor’s beliefs about her Latina heritage. Those on the left want the concentration to be on Sotomayor’s experience and record — over a decade on the court of appeals in New York, and an amazing life story that started in the projects of Brooklyn and will most likely end in the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court.
Even Republican members of the House and Senata must admit that Sotomayor’s confirmation is highly likely. In fact, Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, made the hilarious but true statement during her confirmation that “unless [she] has a major breakdown [she] will be confirmed”. There’s simply very little for the Republicans to attack her on.
Sure, some remarks that came out of her past speeches have generated more questions and controversy during her Supreme Court confirmation hearings this past week — but these questions can do little more than (as one GOP senator put it) “bug the hell out of” Republicans. The fact is that Sotomayor has not shown a true racial bias during her time on the appeals court — she voted against people seeking recrimination for racial discrimination 90% of the time. In some ways, Sotomayor is a true red-blooded American hero, being almost single handedly responsible for saving baseball, the national pasttime. It was Sotomayor who brokered a deal in the mid 90s that put baseball players back on the diamong.
In fact, a major sign of of Sotomayor’s strength and political momentum broke this morning when Senate Republicans confirmed that they do not intend to filibuster her nomination on the Senate floor. A filibuster may not have prevented her nomination, but it could at least have slowed it down. Senate Republicans also indicated that the full Senate would vote on her nomination before breaking for the August recess — there had been talks of Republican boycott of the vote to confirm Sotomayor’s nomination.
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, indicated this morning (the fourth day of the hearing to confirm Obama’s pick for Supreme Court justice) that he would oppose any and all filibuster attempts on the Senate floor, and that he looked forward to a full Senate vote on Sotomayor. For once, it would appear that Republicans aren’t going to play the role of “party of No”.
“She is a good person, [with] a wonderful background,” Sessions told the news media, but he also expressed the standard Republican concern that Sotomayor will be “an activist for liberal causes on the Supreme Court.”
According to Graham, Sotomayor’s speeches are disturbing to conservatives because they suggest certain gender and ethnic bias. Republicans are concerned that Sotomayor will take those biases with her to the floor of the Supreme Court — most of her alleged preferences would work against the Republican agenda.
However, in the same breath, Graham pointed out that Sotomayor’s record as a judge has not been one of a radical liberal. Graham called her a centrist, though acknowledged that at times she has sided slightly with the left. Other Senate Republicans admit that her judicial rulings have been mainstream, and that her confirmation will most likely fly through the Senate.
Why do the personal opinions of Supreme Court justices matter so much? As many have pointed out during Sotomayor’s hearings, the Supreme Court has the ability to shape the political landscape of the country. Think of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case that practically ended segregation in the nation’s schools — that was one case where the Supreme Court stepped up to do something that regular politicans simply didn’t have the guts to. While “Brown” ended up being a successful Supreme Court experiment, many on the political right are concerned that a similar political decision could be made by the court — but that this time, it could be disastrous. Issues like abortion rights, gay marriage, and other hot button topics will likely be decided on by the next session of the Supreme Court, and the conservatives want assurance that Sotomayor won’t use her political or ethnic bias to change the face of American politics. As Graham put it, “The personal views of Supreme Court justices matter because . . . [there is no] law book that tells you how to rule on contentious social issues such as same-sex marriage or whether there is a “fundamental” right to bear arms.” In other words, sometimes Supreme Court justices have to rely on their own beliefs. Republicans merely want to know what her beliefs are.
Sotomayor fought back. She stated that the Supreme Court spends considerable time on cases, including Second Amendment cases involving gun control. Her point is that Supreme Court justices don’t merely open a case, read the headline, decide how they feel, and then rule. Sotomayor then repeated that the Constitution and facts of the case would be the basis of her rulings.
In her response to one of Graham’s questions, Sotomayor had this to say about the role of the Supreme Court — “It does appear that the Supreme Court docket has lessened over time. Because of that, it does appear it has the capacity to take on more cases.”
According to Senator Arlen Specter, the Supreme Court decided 451 cases in 1886, with a total of 161 signed opinions in 1985. In the 2008-2009 session that ended recently, there were only 75 signed opinions. This was brought up because some Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee have complained that the Supreme Court in recent years has made de facto rulings on vital issues by simply refusing to hear them. Democrats don’t want the court to become a place where controversial issues go to die, which is perhaps why an opinionated and controversial woman like Sotomayor was nominated.
About that “wise Latina” comments — when committee Republicans brought the statement up once again, Sotomayor responded in kind.
“I regret that I have offended some people. I believe that my life demonstrates that that was not my intent to leave the impression that some have taken from my words.”
Regardless of what rogue Republicans may attempt, it looks as though our next Supreme Court justice will indeed be the wise Latina from Brooklyn.