And the Nominee is . . . Sonia Sotomayor

President Obama has made his first Supreme Court nomination, the first for a Democrat in fifteen years. Indeed, of the nine sitting justices, only two Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer were nominated by Democrats. When Republicans complain about how liberal the courts are, I kind of laugh, because most of them have been Republican appointments.

So, with his first pick, Obama has chosen Sonia Sotomayor, a 54 year old Latina woman of Puerto Rican descent, a child of immigrants who grew up in the Bronx, went to Princeton and then to Yale. She's been a Federal Judge since 1992, having been appointed the first time by George H.W. Bush. From what I've read she's a distinguished jurist, thoughtful, competent, but not flashy. She's not ruled on some of the more controversial issues before us, so there's no paper trail. Oh, and if confirmed she would be the sixth Roman Catholic on the High Court.

This pick is hailed by some, jeered by others. One of the areas of critique has to do with what is being called the "empathy" criteria, something President Obama has suggested is important. This is called the basis of judicial activism. Now, I'm not a legal scholar, but I think that some of the basic principles of hermeneutics applies here just as it does to Scripture. I find the arguments about the need for strict constructionism to be specious. Some of you might disagree, with this assessment, but what modern biblical hermeneutics has taught us is that everyone brings their own context and views to the table. Now, you have to sometimes, perhaps often, set them aside, but to say that one's background plays no part in interpreting Scripture or the law is simply untrue. To pretend otherwise is to blind one's self to one's own perspective. By owning one's perspective, one can better deal with it.

Judge Sotomayor is being called a liberal -- well, what do you expect? President Obama is a liberal, so why would he select a conservative of the John Roberts or Sam Alito stripe? This fear that the Court is somehow going to take a leftward tilt is again bizarre. Unless the 4 primary conservative judges are planning to retire soon, then things are going to be pretty much the same for some time. Had the Republicans gotten the nomination, then we might looking at a long term right wing court. But we'll still have some balance. But back to the political angle. I read recently that if you look at John Roberts' rulings they are almost down the line conservative Republican -- pro-business, pro-Administration (GOP that is), pro-police, etc. As for defendants, consumers, legislatures, not so good.

Now, as for background. I think it's appropriate when making an appointment of this magnitude to consider the make up of the court. Having only one woman is problematic. Having only one minority is also problematic. In this appointment, the President has broadened the spectrum in two ways, in terms of gender and in terms of ethnicity. Of course, gender and ethnicity are by themselves insufficient factors for selection, but if qualified and competent, then why not?

So, I commend the President for his choice. I think its a bold step forward. I think it will be good for the Court because it adds depth and diversity to the conversations. I think that rulings will take on a new flavor, because a different set of experiences will be brought to bear. Now stay tuned, because I doubt this will be the last appointment!

Picture from NY Times


Anonymous said…
I thought the empathy comment was in relation to the socioeconomic status of her early life and family. Someone who understands the basic struggle to survive likely has gained many forms of wisdom.

Americans love a "Rocky" story.
Obama is wise to take advantage.

David Mc
Anonymous said…
It is interesting that during the campaign Obama was painted as an elitest. Now that he speaks of empathy and chooses a nominee with a real world story, not someone who grew up in affluence, one who had to overcome obstacles to get to the Ivy Leagues, he's supposedly not holding to the highest of standards. So which is it? Elitest or not?
Sempringham said…
From Talking Points Memo via the Kansas City Star:

"I have followed this man's career for some time," Bush said of Thomas. "He is a delightful and warm, intelligent person who has great empathy and a wonderful sense of humor."

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