A Latina on Top Court
The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with the Senate confirming Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court. After three days of debate, the final vote, 68-31, was largely along party lines, although nine Republicans did cross over and vote for Sotomayor's confirmation. The White House went into celebratory mode, and President Obama hailed her confirmation as "breaking yet another barrier and moving us yet another step closer to a more perfect union." Chief Justice John Roberts will swear in the Supreme Court's newest member Saturday morning.
USAT says the White House celebration was tempered by the fact that "the vote was not nearly as bipartisan as Obama had sought." But the LAT says that, ultimately, more Republicans voted for her than was expected. The WSJ declares it was a victory for the White House that senators voted within the timetable that the administration had requested. The WP highlights that Sotomayor got more votes against her than Roberts but fewer than President George W. Bush's other nominee, Samuel Alito. Republicans also tried to claim a victory of their own, stating that during the hearings, Sotomayor and Democratic senators spoke against the idea that empathy is an important qualification to serve on the nation's highest court. "It will now be harder to nominate activist judges," Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the judiciary committee, said.
The LAT highlights that, while lots of attention has been paid to Sotomayor's experience as a Latina, there are plenty of other reasons why she will "bring new perspectives" to the Supreme Court. She was also raised in a public housing project and will be the only justice whose first language isn't English. She also has diabetes, which is classified as a disability under federal law. Advocates for those with disabilities have suffered several defeats in recent years and are hoping that they will get a new ally with Sotomayor. Plus, some are predicting that the simple fact that she's a single woman could make a difference in how she sees the legal rights of nontraditional families.
Lawmakers love to criticize corporations that fly their executives around in private jets while receiving taxpayer funds. But jets for federal officials who live off those funds? A totally different story, of course. The WSJ reports that House lawmakers added funds to buy eight jets to add to the fleet used by federal officials, for a total of $550 million. That is four more than what the Air Force requested for its fleet of passenger jets that are used by lawmakers, administration officials, and military chiefs on government trips. The Pentagon says it doesn't need the additional planes, but lawmakers perhaps think they do since foreign travel by lawmakers has been increasing lately and there is often a shortage of planes when Congress is in recess.
Everyone goes inside with news that five U.S. troops were killed in the same western province of Afghanistan over a period of 24 hours. Four of them were killed by a single roadside bomb. So far, 11 servicemembers have been killed in August. In a separate piece inside, the NYT says the White House is struggling to come up with a way to measure progress in Afghanistan. Obama has often said that having appropriate "metrics" of success was an essential component to get lawmakers and the public to support the military effort. Having a reliable measure of progress will be particularly important if commanders do end up asking for more troops. The problem is that, as the Bush administration learned with Iraq, it's not easy to figure out what to measure, and the numbers can often end up being misleading. Administration officials are emphasizing that they're taking longer than expected because they want to make sure to get it right, but some lawmakers say it's ridiculous that after more than seven years of war there is no reliable way to know how things are going.
The LAT goes inside with confirmation from a Pakistani minister that the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a CIA drone strike. The rest of the papers note that American and Pakistani officials are investigating whether he was killed, but the NYT says American officials "were growing increasingly confident" last night that Mehsud, an al-Qaida ally, was killed. He was Pakistan's most wanted terrorist and believed to have been the mastermind behind the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. One official tells the WSJ that Mehsud's death "would be a big victory" for both the United States and the Pakistani government.
Everyone notes that there will now be more cash available for clunkers, as the Senate voted to devote $2 billion more in funding to the popular initiative that gives drivers up to $4,500 to trade in a car that gets less than 18 mpg for a more fuel-efficient vehicle. Some are skeptical the extension will prove as popular as the first round, and others question the long-term impact of the program as a whole. "The Cash for Clunkers at this point is like one of those energy drinks," an expert tells the Post. "It gives you a short-term boost, then you crash and you fall back into the doldrums."
The NYT fronts a look at how the approximately 90,000 Iraqis who have been released from American detention centers over the past six years often have difficulties adjusting to life after prison. They often go back to families who are facing financial difficulties and find it nearly impossible to find jobs. Old friends and acquaintances often shun them out of fear that they could be seen associating with someone who was behind bars. This makes them particularly attractive to insurgents. "It's just like Jean Valjean," said a former prisoner who read Les Misérables during his 15-month detention. "An innocent guy is thrown in prison, he loses his job, his family goes hungry and they refuse him a job when he gets out. Of course he's going to go the wrong way."
Meanwhile, the talk of the town in Baghdad is a bill presented to the Iraqi parliament by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Cabinet that would ban smoking in public places, report the WP and NYT. It would be one of the first laws of its kind in the Middle East, a region where smoking is particularly cheap and popular. Many Iraqis say it's ridiculous that the government is even worrying about this. "The government has a wild imagination," one Sunni lawmaker said, "and it is trying to delude the world into thinking that there are no problems left in the country other than smoking."
The WP's Steven Pearlstein says that, in opposing the health care overhaul, Republican leaders have "become political terrorists, willing to say or do anything to prevent the country from reaching a consensus on one of its most serious domestic problems." Of course, there's plenty to criticize in the current proposals, but to say that any of the plans would lead to a government takeover of health care "is a flat-out lie whose only purpose is to scare the public and stop the political conversation." And while criticizing the plans as too expensive, Republicans are guilty of hypocrisy by rejecting almost every idea that would actually make an attempt to keep costs under control.
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.