SCOTUS Nominee Stumps GOP
The New York Timesand Los Angeles Timesbanner, while everyone else leads with, President Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. The LAT easilywins the headline-of-the-day award by connecting Sotomayor's nomination to the day's other big news—California's Supreme Court upholding the ban on marriage for same-sex couples—with the banner headline: "A Latina in the Middle." By nominating the 54-year-old New Yorker, Obama is "aiming to make good on his promise to bring 'empathy' to the court by naming a liberal with a compelling life story who would be its first Hispanic justice," notes the Wall Street Journal. Obama made a point of emphasizing Sotomayor's "extraordinary journey" from a Bronx housing project to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. "I have decided to nominate an inspiring woman who I believe will make a great justice," Obama said. The LAT points out that while she hasn't issued any significant rulings on hot-button issues like gay rights and abortion, "her narrowly written opinions resembled those of the justice she would replace, David H. Souter."
Obama's nomination "paves the way for a heated summer debate on the role her gender, Hispanic roots and working-class Bronx background should play in her rulings," notes USA Today. But how much of a debate will there actually be? No one expects too many fireworks. The NYT says the "White House appeared eager to dare Republicans to stand against a history-making nomination." Indeed, Republicans seem to still be trying to decide how much they'll push back against Sotomayor, knowing full well that an "all-out assault … could alienate both Latino and women voters" while at the same time "sidestepping a court battle could be deflating to the party's base and hurt efforts to rally conservatives going forward," points out the Washington Post.
Sotomayor, who would be the third woman on the country's highest court and the nation's 111th justice undoubtedly has an impressive résumé. She is a graduate of Princeton and Yale, went on to serve as a prosecutor, and then became a partner at a New York law firm before she was nominated by George H.W. Bush in 1992 to become a judge. Besides her professional experience, though, it is undeniable that her "up-by-the-bootstraps tale, an only-in-America story that in many ways mirrors Mr. Obama's own" is one of the reasons why she was selected, notes the NYTin a separate front-page piece.
While Republicans in the Senate mostly remained silent while vowing to closely examine her record, conservatives were ready with some attack lines, tagging her as a judicial activist. Conservatives focused on a speech where Sotomayor said a "court of appeals is where policy is made" and another where she said that "our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. … I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." In a front-page look at Sotomayor's story, the Post says that her life has "been heavily sculpted, if not fully defined, by her ethnicity."
Conservatives also focused on her support for affirmative action, particularly what appears to be her most controversial decision, in which she ruled against a group of white firefighters who said they faced discrimination after tests that were supposed to be used to decide promotions were later thrown out after no blacks qualified. Sotomayor was part of a three-judge panel that issued a two-paragraph, unsigned opinion dismissing the suit. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and if the justices decide to overrule the decision, it could be an embarrassment before confirmation hearings. But the White House pushed back, saying that the unsigned decision was an example of Sotomayor following precedent, and, besides, officials seem confident that it would be difficult for opponents to turn two paragraphs into a major controversy.
Rush Limbaugh called her a "reverse racist," but her nomination "brought a surprisingly muted response from the Republican senators who will actually vote on it," notes the LAT. "The senators seemed to be taking their cues from quieter voices within the party who cautioned that opposing the country's first Latino Supreme Court nominee would amount to political suicide."
Some legal experts, including one of her colleagues, were quick to say that Sotomayor can best be described as a moderate liberal. "On the modern court, she's on the center left, pretty much right in line with Justice Souter," one lawyer who frequently argues in front of the Supreme Court tells the LAT. "Back in the day of the Warren court, she certainly would have been regarded as a moderate."
For those interested in the process, the NYT reports that Sotomayor spent seven hours at the White House last Thursday. By Friday, Obama said he was leaning toward selecting her but said he would take the weekend to think about it. The Post has the most detail about the White House plan for what "they hope will be a 72-day campaign to confirm Sotomayor by Aug. 7," when the Senate will go on a monthlong recess. "We have to keep control of the narrative, to make sure that her story doesn't get told by someone else," one senior official said. The plan is to have Sen. Chuck Schumer introduce her to his colleagues, and she will "then disappear" until confirmation hearings begin.
In a front-page analysis, the NYT's Adam Liptak says Sotomayor's "opinions are marked by diligence, depth and unflashy competence." Her decisions "are usually models of modern judicial craftsmanship," but "they reveal no larger vision, seldom appeal to history and consistently avoid quotable language." The WP says that on controversial issues, "Sotomayor has been difficult to categorize ideologically, with some rulings that have pleased conservatives and others liberals." Liptak adds that her penchant for "technical, incremental and exhaustive" decisions "makes her remarkably cursory treatment" of the firefighters case—Ricci v. DeStefano—"so baffling." This is why that one case will probably attract more attention than any other during confirmation hearings. Slate's Emily Bazelon writes that "Sotomayor punted when Ricci came before her, to such a degree that she raised more questions than she answered." (See Slate's complete coverage on Sotomayor here.)
The NYT talks to some conservatives who say the big issue will be how she might rule on a same-sex marriage case. "Abortion is in some sense a stale issue that has been fought over many times, but gay marriage is very much up for grabs," said the executive director of the Committee for Justice. "Gay marriage will be bigger than abortion."
Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.