The right wing was gearing up for this fight even before Justice David Souter thought about retiring. This week, as President Obama was naming – as expected – Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to fill Souter’s chair on the Supreme Court, conservatives were lining up to throw brickbats before the words were out of his mouth.
RedState.com is blubbering that Obama’s nominee means he is covering up for not launching an attack on North Korea after its nuclear test yesterday and the five missiles it test fired today: “No word yet on the reaction from Pyongyang” on the Sotomayor appointment, somehow conflating the two totally unrelated events.
Drudge is beside himself, linking to a New Republic article that questions her intellectual firepower without giving any supporting evidence. The author, Jeffrey Rosen, concedes that “I haven't read enough of Sotomayor's opinions to have a confident sense of them, nor have I talked to enough of Sotomayor's detractors and supporters to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths.”
The Capital Research Center – which had nothing to do with the Capital, legitimate research or anything remotely connected to the center in American politics – fumes that she has “ties to a race-obsessed, left-wing grievance group/shakedown operation.”
The Conservative Comeback simply proclaims, “This chick scares the bejeezus out of me.”
Naturally, the wingnut blogs are giving wide replay to an out-of-context video in which Sotomayor says the Court of Appeals is where “policy is made.” A poor word choice but, uhm, that’s the point of an appeals court as it decides what the law means, not just what it says.
All of this thunder on the right sounds to me like pretty decent endorsements.
Meanwhile, the left is busy attacking Obama for not appointing a dogmatic, progressive liberal to the Supremes.
Yet two things seem to escape both the right and the left.
First, no one can predict how someone will decide cases once they’re on the Supreme Court. While at university about 100 lifetimes ago, I attended a seminar led by Justice Thurgood Marshall – as credentialed a liberal as ever sat on the Supreme Court – who said, “Until you sit on that bench, you cannot grasp the weight sitting on a Justice’s shoulders every time a case is argued.” In other words, political leanings fly out the window once someone is confirmed.
Except for Clarence Thomas, that is, but I’m writing about people who actually think.
Remember, Dwight Eisenhower whined that his worst decision as president was nominating Earl Warren – a died-in-the-wool. right wing. California Republican governor – to be Chief Justice. Warren wrote the landmark Brown decision desegregating schools and opening the door to the entire civil rights movement.
Second, Thomas Jefferson – the Founding Father as far as I’m concerned and the leading intellectual among the group writing the Constitution – wrote about what he saw as the Court’s future role. Basically, the idea of a “living Constitution” that breathes the air of the day is Jefferson’s, not some modern-day lefty interpretation.
So whether Sotomayor is far left, middle liberal or a moderate is almost irrelevant. Once the silk gown is slipped onto her shoulders for the first time, hopefully she will be a Supreme Court Justice who feels the weight and understands the import of her decisions.