Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Judicial Turf War Begins

Today President Barack Obama said he will nominate Sonia Sotomayor to fill the Supreme Court seat being vacated by Justice David Souter. If confimed, Judge Sotomayor, a a circuit judge for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, would be become the first Hispanic American (and Puerto Rican for that matter) to serve on the United States Supreme Court.

Nominating Sotomayor politically shrewd. Obama knew the Republicans would oppose his nominee no matter who it was so he appointed the first Hispanic American woman, solidifying his support within the Hispanic community while forcing the Republicans to either back her or further alienate the Hispanics who have been leaving their party. They could rally their base but only if they burn the remaining bridges they have built with the African American and Hispanic American communities.

By picking Sotomayor, Obama also sidelined the gay marriage debate which the Republicans would use to rally their base without alienating African American and Hispanic American voters.

The Republicans will, for the most part, vote against Sotomayor while the Democrats, for the most part, back the president's nominee. You will, hear the Republicans wax eloquently for the right to a filibuster they nearly tried to eliminate when they were in power and you will hear the Democrats wax eloquently for the right to a vote by the full senate they previously denied President George W. Bush's nominees.

Republicans will bemoan the president's decision squander any chance he had to reach across the aisle and heal this country's wounds by picking a "moderate" or a "moderate liberal." The Democrats will sa her views are well within the mainstream of legal thought.

Ultimately, however, both sides must examine Sotomayor's record to see how she will rule in future cases that reach the Supreme Court. Supreme Court justices are lifetime appointees and are only replaceable when a sitting member resigns, is impeached and successfully removed, or dies. Since she is replacing a reliably liberal member on the bench, we'd need to know if she would uphold Roe v. Wade and the other privacy rulings tha have reached the court, the unofficial suspension of habeas corpus righs for some prisoners, and civil rights.

Of equal concern is Sotomayor's ability to persuade her colleagues in the center - Justices Anthony Kennedy (center-right) and Stephen Breyer (center-left) to vote with the liberals on privacy, war detention, the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause and separation of church and state issues. If, in fact, she won her colleagues' hate or disrespect, that would make our chance of winning a given case more difficult.

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