A Wise Validation

Our View: Senate Confirmation Of Judge Sotomayor Is Welcome Decision, But Her Overheated Opponents Now Have Some Explaining To Do Of Their Own

August 07, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation to the Supreme Court yesterday demonstrated that no amount of smoke, mirrors and parsing of 8-year-old speeches was ever going to derail a nominee with strong qualifications, 17 years of experience on the bench and, perhaps most importantly, mainstream moderate views.

It helped considerably that Judge Sotomayor's appointment is not going to tip the ideological balance of the court, as her views seem to generally mirror those of retiring Justice David Souter, a Republican appointee. That, more than anything, likely spared her the more partisan confirmation vote of Samuel Alito, who won over only four Senate Democrats when he was approved by the Republican-controlled chamber in January 2006.

Still, the Senate's 68-31 vote did not rise to the truly bipartisan 78-22 confirmation tally for Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005, and that's unfortunate. Opposing Judge Sotomayor won't help Republicans out of the political wilderness. Instead, the party now has some serious fence-mending to do with Hispanics and women - much to Democrats' delight.

One of the immediate benefits of yesterday's Senate vote is that the cable news networks will no longer parade a stream of self-important right-wing, single-issue advocates repeating the "wise Latina" phrase over and over again in front of the camera as if it held some actual significance. Since when did the "E" of judicial empathy become a modern day scarlet letter? If Judge Sotomayor ever rendered a decision with the kind of runaway bias her opponents alleged, it doesn't show up in her record.

Even the National Rifle Association proved rather toothless, despite the organization's threat to regard a yes confirmation vote as an attack on the Second Amendment. It was, instead, typical of the overheated rhetoric: Judge Sotomayor's past decisions that alluded to states' ability to regulate guns as "settled law" or the equivalent were perfectly in keeping with what previous Supreme Courts have ruled.

All of which should not distract Americans from the essence of what transpired Thursday: The nation has its first Hispanic justice. In a country struggling with issues of immigration and multi-culturalism, her appointment to the court carries a huge symbolic meaning.

Still, it's difficult to be satisfied with the Senate's methodology - unless one has a taste for bad political theater and pointless speechmaking. Neither party particularly distinguished itself during the recent hearings, and Judge Sotomayor was canny enough to be circumspect about her personal views.

What would happen if 73-year-old Justice Anthony Kennedy were ever to step down? As the court's perpetual swing vote, the stakes would be far higher. One shudders to imagine the kabuki theatrics that would ensue.

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