For weeks, it's been obvious Republicans would oppose whoever President Barack Obama picked to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter.
Conservative commentators pounced on the president's use of the word "empathy" to describe one of the qualities he was looking for - as if an ability to put oneself in another person's shoes was somehow undesirable in a judge - and that same sort of reflexive hostility was on view again over the weekend, when a top Senate Republican threatened to filibuster Mr. Obama's choice without even knowing who it was.
FOR THE RECORD - An editorial yesterday attributed supportive comments about Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the wrong conservative group. They were made by Freedom Watch. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.
But with the nomination Tuesday of Sonia Sotomayor, a federal appeals court judge in New York who would become only the third woman and the first Hispanic ever to serve on the nation's highest court, we hope even the president's critics will give his candidate a fair hearing.
In many ways, the story of Ms. Sotomayor's rise from humble origins to the pinnacle of the legal profession through hard work and determination - qualities the GOP professes to champion - parallels not only that of President Obama himself but also of Justice Clarence Thomas, the only African-American member of the court and a conservative icon.
The child of Puerto Rican parents in the South Bronx neighborhood of New York, Judge Sotomayor attended Princeton and Yale on scholarships, then went on to become a top prosecutor in the office of New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. After a stint in private practice as a commercial litigator, she was named a federal district court judge by President George H.W. Bush and was elevated to the court of appeals by President Bill Clinton.
On the appeals bench, Ms. Sotomayor hasn't been called on to rule on the hot-button issue of abortion, though she was a participant on a three-judge panel that upheld an affirmative action plan in New Haven, Conn. The Supreme Court will revisit that case this term. Judge Sotomayor also achieved brief fame as a district court judge in 1995 when she effectively ended a Major League Baseball strike by ruling for the players in a labor dispute.
The opinions she has written on the environment and the 2nd Amendment are to the left of the current court but clearly in the mainstream of judicial thought. And Republicans will find it difficult to attack her without alienating Hispanic voters who have become crucial swing voters in a number of key states.
The president has given his opponents a hard target to hit, as some critics already have grudgingly conceded. On Tuesday, the conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch called Judge Sotomayor's selection a "very prudent and wise decision" - even "from a far left liberal like Obama."
Others, however, wasted no time in slapping the "liberal activist" label across her forehead. (In the case of one conservative publication's Web site, literally so.) That reaction reflected not a comprehensive understanding of Ms. Sotomayor's legal thinking but a cheap use of coded language to score political points. Die-hard opponents will have plenty of opportunity in coming weeks to learn more about Ms. Sotomayor's views on the law - and to search for chinks in her armor. But that's what the confirmation process is for, and Republicans should use it for a thorough and thoughtful examination of the candidate's overall fitness for office, not just to roil the right-wing base in hopes of ginning up contributions for the party's coffers.