Obama's Supreme Court choice -- Sonia Sotomayor

May 26, 2009 12:52:27 PM PDT
No question, Sonia Sotomayor has a great back story -- much like the President who has nominated her to become the nation's first Hispanic and third woman Supreme Court Justice.

But it is Sotomayor's qualifications, legal knowledge, experience, politics, rulings and reversals (she's had several) that will matter - and should matter - as the Senate begins its advise-and-consent function for Barack Obama's first - but likely not last - Supreme Court nomination.

Sotomayor's personal story is powerful - raised in the Bronx by a single mother, in humble surroundings. Graduating from Princeton and Yale, working as a prosecutor in the Manhattan D.A.'s office, then later becoming a Federal Judge -- first a District Judge (appointed by the First Pres. Bush) and then an Appeals Court Judge (appointed by Pres. Clinton).

She spoke more Spanish than English growing up, she's a die-hard Yankees fan, and her biggest ruling as a Federal Judge was ending the 1995 baseball strike, ruling in favor of the players over the owners.

She reflects, in so many ways, just how far Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics have advanced in the U.S. That's being played out on Broadway these days with the revival of "West Side Story" and the Tony-Award-winning "In The Heights" -- and today it was played out in White House.

And what a powerful image this morning, with the nation's first African-American President standing next to the nation's first Hispanic nominee to the Supreme Court.

But fulfilling the great American dream does not automatically qualify someone to serve on the country's highest court. Nor should it.

Which is why so many Hispanic groups quickly praised the nomination and then just as quickly said her ethnicity and personal history should not be focus of the confirmation process.

Democrats stress that there are many Republicans who have already voted to confirm Sotomayor for the federal bench. But some conservatives quickly jumped all over the selection -- saying she was a classic liberal, and meaning that label as a pejorative.

It didn't more than a few minutes for former Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to blast the President.

But in his apparent eagerness to criticize the selection, neither he nor any of his staff, if he has any staff, proof-read his statement to make sure he had Judge Sotomayor's name right. He called her "Maria" instead of Sonya. (Maybe he had just seen "West Side Story"?)

"If she is confirmed," Huckabee said, "then we need to take the blindfold off Lady Justice."

And Rush Limbaugh weighed in quickly as well, boiling the whole case down to the most simplistic: "She is an affirmative action case extraordinaire," he said. He also called her a "reverse racist" for her ruling nullifying a firefighter's job test in New Haven because no African-Americans passed the test.

The White House wants Sotomayor confirmed by the end of the Senate's summer session; Republicans are making noise that they'll need much of the fall to vet the candidate, which means she would miss the Court's 2009-2010 session in early October.

The battle has begun.

And the honeymoon period that never really existed on Capitol Hill for the new President, is now officially over.

And while it's nice that publicly so many people say ethnicity shouldn't have anything to do with this confirmation process, it's nearly impossible for it not to.

The political reality: Hispanics represent 9.5 percent of eligible voters, up from 4.7 percent of eligible voters in 1988 and 8.2 percent in 2004, according to recent Pew Research Center estimates.

And, as ABC News Polling Director Gary Langer points out, "the comparative youth of this group portends future growth; it's comparatively weak turnout rate, 50 percent, also signals potential for yet more Hispanic participation."

In addition, Langer says that Hispanics favored Obama by more than 2-to-1 in November.

Democrats do not want to lose that advantage, and Republicans, as strategist Ed Rollins pointed out today, risk alienating Hispanics if they are viewed as unfairly attacking Sotomayor.

One side note about Sotomayor's interview process: She went to the White House last Thursday for an interview with the President. But she was well aware of the possible pre-announcement publicity, so rather than take a train or plane from New York to Washington - where she'd be spotted in the train station or airport - she drove down to the Capitol with a friend.

And the White House also made a gaffe with the nominee's name - spelling it incorrectly as "Sotomayer" in a caption under the photo released today of her visit last week.

We'll have complete coverage of Sotomayor's nomination, tonight at 11, including reaction from her long-time friends and neighbors in New York.

Also at 11, the importance of court rulings certainly front and center tonight, as the California Supreme Court - as expected - upheld Prop. 8, the initiative passed by voters last November. It means the ban on same-sex marriage in California stands. However, the 18,000 or so marriages that took place last year before the ban, when it was legal, also stand.

We're also keeping close watch on the condition of Mike Tyson's four-year-old daughter, who remains on life-support tonight after a freak and terrible accident on a treadmill in her home. Tyson, the former heavyweight boxing champion, has lived a life that has been more chaotic than charmed, beginning with his rough-and-tumble beginnings in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. He has hardly been a role model for anyone or anything, but it is impossible not to feel anything but compassion and sympathy for him and family tonight.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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