President Obama's historic nomination of 54-year-old Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court is a shrewd choice, both from a legal and political standpoint.
If, as expected, she is confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate, Sotomayor would join Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second female member of the nine-member Supreme Court, and would become the third woman ever to serve on the High Court. She also is being touted as the first Hispanic nominee, though Court historians might take issue, citing the late Justice Benjamin Cardozo's Portuguese/Jewish ancestry.
Unless the Obama White House sloppily vetted the nomination and she is discovered to have an aversion to paying her tax bill, Judge Sotomayor already has my much-awaited endorsement. Admittedly, my thumbs-up in part is based on her being an avid New York Yankees fan and because of the crucial role she played in resolving the Major League Baseball strike in 1995 while serving as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, when she sided with players and issued an injunction, chiding owners for engaging in unfair labor practices. A labor agreement was reached, and the Joe Torre era began the following year as the Yanks won the World Series.
Beyond that, in an era in which the Senate has kicked to the curb its "advise and consent" role regarding a President's selection of High Court nominees, in favor of a morality and social issue litmus test, I support Judge Sotomayor because I believe attacks on her by Republicans (which already have begun) not only will prove unsuccessful because of the 59-member Democratic majority, but also could boomerang against the GOP.
Radio talkmeister Rush Limbaugh today fired a salvo against Judge Sotomayor, drawing on his crack team of researchers ("She is a judge on the court of appeals...I don't know which circuit she is on...") to pronounce "She's one of these judges that allows her personal views to be a factor in the way she decides cases." Hard to fathom the critical label of "activist judge," which surely is preferable to the alternative "comatose judge," some of whom I've appeared before over the years. Anyway, here are categories subject to GOP attack where Judge Sotomayor passes muster:
EXPERIENCE-- "Under-achiever" does not spring to mind when describing Judge Sotomayor, who managed to graduate summa cum laude from Princeton University and graduated from Yale Law School where she was editor of the law journal. Judge Sotomayor has been an attorney in private practice and is a former assistant district attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. She has spent considerable time on the bench, having been nominated in 1991 by Republican President George H.W. Bush to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York where she served until she was appointed by President Clinton in 1998 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where she has remained up to now. In contrast, the resume of Harriet Miers, former White House Counsel nominated to the High Court by President George W. Bush in 2005, included private practice and a penchant for watching "LA Law" and "Matlock" reruns.
BACK STORY--The daughter of emigres from Puerto Rico, Judge Sotomayor grew up in public housing in the Bronx and overcame the death of her father when she was age 9 and a struggle with diabetes. Add to that script-in-waiting for a Lifetime movie, her initial ascension to the bench was courtesy of a Republican president and the growing political clout of Hispanic voters, whom the GOP alienated in the last election with anti-immigration rhetoric, and one can see how Republicans might want to pout sullenly, but otherwise tread lightly concerning Judge Sotomayor's confirmation. At least "W." spoke Spanish (no, English was not his second language). Given former Mass. Gov. and 2012 Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's embarrassment concerning the revelation during the 2008 campaign that he employed undocumented aliens to do yard work at his Belmont manse, you can be certain he won't be talking about Judge Sotomayor changing the "landscape" of the Roberts' Court.
HOT-BUTTON ISSUES--Much to the chagrin of Beck, Limbaugh, et al., Judge Sotomayor has never authored a legal opinion suggesting every woman of voting age be entitled to one free abortion. so there's not much here. The biggest dust-up concerns her support of the majority opinion in a reverse discrimination case, Ricci v. DeStefano (06-4996-cv), which, ironically, was recently argued before the Supreme Court. The majority backed the City of New Haven, which, fearful of the Title VII implications, tossed a 2003 firefighters' promotion exam because minority test-takers did not fare well on it. The case was brought by white firefighters and one Hispanic firefighter. She is divorced (like Ronald Reagan) and childless (unlike "Murphy Brown"), but that's a non-starter.
Republican leadership in the Senate must weigh the risks of half-hearted opposition to the nomination--a "back-at-ya" response to Democratic opposition to Justice Alito's nomination--versus a full-blown battle that they will almost certainly lose, barring a harmful disclosure concerning Judge Sotomayor's past.