Sonia Sotomayor is being sworn in, today, as a Supreme Court Justice.
I have not really written about this issue until now. Not because of a lack of care about its outcome, but because a lack of doubt. I went out of my way to attack the GOP for giving Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis a hard time during her confirmation process primarily out of personal loyalty to a fellow Californian of whom I have always been a significant fan. There was also the fact that, then and there, GOP obstructionism might have actually meant something.
There was never any serious threat of that with Sotomayor. With Secretary Solis, the GOP had her sponsorship of a controversial bill which they hated with a fiery passion. They had an impressive looking (but ultimately meaningless) tax lien that had been filed against her husband's car lot. All of this might have given them the chance to smack her around until she withdrew her nomination, or persuaded Southern conservatives in the Senate to side with their Republican fellow travelers against their own party. Remember, Bill Clinton went through two choices for Attorney General before he was able to get Janet Reno confirmed despite a Democratic Senate majority.
A Supreme Court Justice is a different matter. A qualified Supreme Court Justice is nearly impossible not to confirm. Chief Justice John Roberts, despite being politically unappealing to most Democrats (liberal or not) was confirmed for just that reason. Even aggressively reactionary judicial (re-)activists like Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito were confirmed because they had the chops, despite serious questions Democrats raised about their biases and fitness. Judge Sotomayor does has more in common with Roberts, in the case of obvious qualifications and a record of ruling on the law, than with Thomas and Alito.
True, Bush had two Supreme Court appointments shot down. However, Harriet Miers was torpedoed primarily by Republicans who were suspicious of her right wing qualifications and found the blatant cronyism of appointing one's personal family attorney to the Supreme Court going too far even for a president of their own party. Democrats barely needed to take a shot. John Bolton was such an obvious disaster waiting to happen that his confirmation was impossible. He made Robert Bork look like a brilliant choice.
Indeed, unimpeachably conservative Republicans like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee (the number three Republican in the Senate) made strong statements of support for Sotomayor. Graham voted for her confirmation in committee and on the floor, while Alexander voted for it on the floor.
I am no great fan of Senator Alexander, who is one of 'my' two Senators. However, in this case he did the right thing and deserves praise for doing so in the face of the massive wall of right wing opposition to the highly qualified Madame Justice.
For the record, I think a wise Latina woman just might make better decisions than another white man in specific instances. That's not a racist statement, that's a statement about the need of the membership of the Supreme Court to represent a multiplicity of experiences and viewpoints rather than one narrow paradigm. Does anyone really believe another generic white man would have been a better choice than Thurgood Marshall, Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, or even Clarence Thomas? It was believed that a black viewpoint or a woman's viewpoint, liberal in two instances and conservative in two others, had a place on the court. Is it any less logical to say that a Latina viewpoint has a place on the Court? Certainly the GOP was making that statement in the appointment of Alito.
Now she will be on the Court and the Court will be better for it. The actual political breadth of the Court is not changing, but its breadth of experience and knowledge is.