A Vacancy on the Court

The Sonia Sotomayor Nomination

By nominating Judge Sonia Sotomayor to fill the upcoming vacancy of Justice Souter, President Obama is providing what he perceives as needed diversity to the Supreme Court. If confirmed, Judge Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic justice and bring back a second woman on the Court, a position lost when President Bush appointed Samuel Alito to fill Justice O'Connor's seat. Speculation that Obama might go outside the now-common career path to the Court, that of being a federal judge on the US Court of Appeals, must be set aside until next time. One can achieve only so much with a single nomination, and this one achieved an uncommon dual result.

The more serious questions, of course, involve not Sotomayor's sex or ethnicity, but her qualifications to serve and the assessment by the president's supporters and opponents alike about what kind of justice she will make. Sotomayor is a rare bird, appointed to a federal judgeship first by a Republican president, President Bush in 1992, and then elevated to the Appeals Court by a Democratic president, President Clinton in 1998. A summa cum laude undergraduate at Princeton and a 1979 Yale Law School graduate, Sotomayor worked as an assistant district attorney for New York County, moving to private practice to focus on intellectual property until her bench confirmation. Her father having died when she was only nine, Sonia and her brother were raised by their mother, he becoming a doctor, she the attorney. There seems little doubt that Sotomayor meets, even exceeds, the qualifications commonly applied to Supreme Court justice nominees. She has the intellect, experience, integrity, competence, and temperament that presidents and senators seek.

Opposition to the nomination will surface, indeed in this age of instant rather than thoughtful reaction, it has already surfaced. You may follow the process as it evolves through the interim link found on this page. Opposition will come from the right, involving complaints about her liberalism and judicial activism. It will come from the left, assertions that the president could have chosen someone more liberal and more prominent. Republican senators will talk about the need for careful perusal of the nominee to insure she understands that justices don't make law, that she is not too activist. Democratic senators will generally praise the nomination. Given the setting for this nomination, the president has what he has probably always wanted to do—a slam dunk.

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Created on May 26, 2009 by GW