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Supreme Sonia May 27, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in National Politics, Obama Administration, Politics, Supreme Court, Women's Issues.
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sotomayorIn a move not unexpected by court watchers, President Obama has nominated Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court seat being vacated by Justice David Souter.   Sotomayor’s name had been floated since Souter announced his retirement last month. 

In the intervening few weeks, Sotomayor has been thoroughly examined by the press and those Republicans expected to oppose any Obama Administration court nomination.  The problem for them is that nobody has been able to find much of a basis on which to oppose her.  She is a female member of the nation’s fastest-growing minority who has delivered opinions from her bench that are pretty centrist.  

One case Sotomayor heard that is garnering a lot of attention is Riccio v. DiStefano, where white firefighters in the city of New Haven, CT sued the city because the results of a promotional test were thrown out.  The city trashed the test because no minority applicants scored high enough to qualify for promotion.  The white firefighters sued, claiming race discrimination.  Sotomayor and one other jurist on the 3-member court decided in favor of the city and dismissed the case.  The firefighters are now pleading their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Red-faced and apoplectic, Conservatives have siezed on this case as an example of Sotomayor’s “judicial activism”.  Pat Buchanan of MSNBC said that this proved that Sotomayor believed in “reverse discrimination against white males”.  The Great White Whale himself, Rush Limbaugh, weighed in to bluntly call Sotomayor a racist  and President Obama a racist as well.  “He’s the greatest living example of a reverse racist,” Limbaugh blustered on his show yesterday.  Sean Hannity decried the “arrogance of hope” and excoriated the present administration for nominating “the most divisive nominee possible.” 

Of course, the New Haven case is more complex than just black and white (no pun intended).   Questions asked in the case include whether or not the written test took too much precedence over experience, if diversity in the upper ranks of the fire department is necessary (New Haven has a large minority population), if the test itself was discriminatory since no African-Americans passed, and if the entire promotional system for firefighters is fair to racial and ethnic minorities.  And, as David Axelrod told Chris Matthews on Hardball yesterday, Sotomayor did not make or change any laws in the New Haven case.  She just sided with the city who argued that throwing out the test was in the city’s best interests. 

But whatever the record says, it just doesn’t matter.  Conservatives have found the red meat they needed to throw to their base – the broad has it in for white men.  Keeping these guys angry keeps them (somewhat) viable, and the conservative constituency is tearing into the bloody steaks thrown out by Limbaugh and his ilk.

However these guys use their play books, it is certain that Sotomayor will be confirmed.  This was a masterful stroke by the Obama administration.  Republicans who oppose the nomination risk alienating women and Hispanics in droves, but if they vote for her, they risk alienating the Conservative base. 

The Republicans are going to have to tread very carefully here.  Indeed, more pragmatic and moderate (are there any left?) Republicans have muted their opposition.  Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins from Maine have both made conciliatory statements about the pick and Senator John McCain – who represents numerous Hispanic voters – has announced careful approval.

“They oppose her at their peril,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said of his GOP colleagues and conservative activists who are leading the court fight. “I think this process is going to be more a test of the Republican Party than of Sonia Sotomayor.”

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