What's this, yet another article on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor? Haven't we already read, watched or listened to enough of them in the past seventy-two hours to last a lifetime?
You betcha! And that's why this piece, "The Children's Hour," is not about the Sotomayor nomination.
Well, not exactly . . .
To be perfectly honest, it is about one aspect of the nomination -- the politics of it all . . .
Today's New York Times contains an article detailing the slow, deliberate, obsessively thorough process the president and his staff employed in finally settling on Judge Sotomayor. Understandably, this process began back in late 2008, when Mr. Obama's title was still "President Elect." This only makes sense, for Mr. Obama and his advisers knew full well that before too long they would have the duty and honor of nominating someone for the nation's highest court, and they wanted to select the perfect person. Being political pros with a thorough knowledge of political history made the Obama team acutely aware of several facts:
- That the process of confirming a Supreme Court nominee is a high stakes political chess match;
- That other administrations have lost matches by being improperly prepared.
- That the other side has been prepping for the match just as long and as hard as you have;
- That even when "check mate" is pretty much a given -- as in the case of Judge Sotomayor -- you must nonetheless prepare for the match as if the odds were overwhelmingly against you and,
- That the spoils of victory -- the glory of "check mate" -- can be far greater than the seating of a single justice.
- A president with a greater knowledge of law -- and specifically Constitutional Law -- than perhaps any president in American history, and
- A Vice President who had voted on the confirmation of every member of the current court.
To be sure, the Republicans have also been meeting, planning and strategizing over this upcoming political chess match since late last year. But interestingly, their goal has not been identifying the perfect strategy by which they could defeat Mr. Obama and whoever his nominee turned out to be. Rather, it was putting together a game plan that could fatten their coffers, stir up their base, and hopefully put them in better shape for the upcoming 2010 elections. Don't take my word for it. Even before President Obama announced Judge Sotomayor's nomination, Wendy Long, counsel for the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network characterized the upcoming fight as "a basis for a Republican renaissance. . . . If there is any issue that can get dispirited Republicans ginned up . . . its a Supreme Court fight." Or, read the words of conservative activist Richard Viguerie, who told the New York Times even before Obama had named his choice that the fight over a Supreme Court nominee, "[is] an immense opportunity to build the conservative movement and identify the troops out there. It's a massive teaching moment for America. We've got the packages written. We're waiting right now to put a name in."
No matter who President Obama would have nominated for the Supreme Court, the Republicans already had their script, their strategy -- Viguerie's "package" -- fully prepared:
- To characterize the nominee as a "far left liberal."
- To question the nominee's intellectual heft.
- To accuse the nominee of being "an activist judge."
- To warn that the nominee is one who favors "legislating from the bench."
- To pick out one or two out-of-context statements or legal decisions by to characterize the nominee.
This is precisely what the "RNC [Rush-Newt-Cheney] Axis" have done. Everyone from Sean Hannity and Pat Buchanan to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times have characterized Judge Sotomayor as "gruff," "intellectually challenged," the most far-left judge in American history," and "a reverse bigot." They have characterized her decision in the New Haven case [one out of literally thousands in which she has participated] as an example of "judicial activism," [Note: In that controversial decision, Judge Sotomayor ruled against 18 white firefighters, including one Hispanic, in their lawsuit against New Haven, Conn., after city officials scrapped a promotional test that showed the plaintiffs more eligible for advancement within the fire department. The white firefighters scored much better than their African-American peers on the test.] Say the facts of the case had been different (that the city of New Haven had let the test results stand and plaintiffs had been the African-American firefighters) and Judge Sotomayor had ruled in the city's favor -- Republicans would have then gladly patted her on the back and said that she was merely applying the rule of law and respecting New Haven's sovereignty. When Republicans agree with a ruling, the judge is a "strict constructionist." When they disagree, the judge is an "activist."
Likewise, Judge Sotomayor has been repeatedly taken to task for an October 2001 speech she gave at the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal's 12th annual symposium. The part of her speech that her detractors have excised and repeated ad nauseum has Judge Sotomayor stating, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." This one sentence -- lifted out of context -- has caused Republican commentators to refer to her repeatedly as a "bigot" and "reverse racist." Yesterday Newt Gingrich Twittered:
Imagine a judicial nominee said 'my experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman' new racism is no better than old racism. White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw.
The problem with all this is that her detractors have chosen to leave out what Judge Sotomayor said next in that Berkeley speech:
"Each day on the bench I learn something new about the judicial process and about being a professional Latina woman in a world that sometimes looks at me with suspicion. I am reminded each day that I render decisions that affect people concretely and that I owe them constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives and ensuring that to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate them and change as circumstances and cases before me requires. I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences but I accept my limitations."
When these words are added, it becomes rather clear -- at least to me -- that Judge Sonia Sotomayor is no racist -- reverse or any other kind.
Interestingly, the vast majority of all the negative comments about Sonia Sotomayor are coming not from members of the United States Congress, but from their sideline, unelected "Marching and Chowder Society" -- from the likes of Rush, Newt, Michael Steele, Ann Coulter, Matt Drudge and the rest.
It would appear that Congressional Republicans are exercising a bit of taste, and restraint. Some of them understand that this is a chess match they are going to lose; that Sonia Sotomayor is going to be seated on the Supreme Court. Further, some recognize that adopting the RNC Axis' stridency, will neither refill their coffers nor add new members to their party. They have already lost much of the Hispanic vote -- the fastest-growing segment of the voting public. They don't score well with women, the better-educated, Northeastern urbanites . . . perhaps even Yankee fans for all I know. To bitterly and publicly oppose Judge Sotomayor's nomination is a horrific strategy in a political chess match that they are already on track to lose.
Do the Hannaty's Coulters, Buchanans and O'Reillys of this world really, truly believe that Sonia Sotomayor is a dangerous fire-breathing ultra liberal judicial activist? Does Karl Rove really, truly believe that Judge Sotomeyer is of questionable intellectual ability? [He who attended at least 5 colleges, never got a degree and was responsible for the nomination of that intellectual giant Harriet Miers!] For that matter, does Rush Limbaugh really, truly believe that President Barack Obama is a "dyed-in-the-wool Marxist Leninist hell bent on turning America into a Socialist-Communist nation?"
Obviously, the answer to the above is either "Yes" or "No."
I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say:
"No, they really, truly don't believe all the things they say about Judge Sotomayor, President Obama, the Democratic Party and 1,001 other things. They just say these things because it's great for their ratings, guarantees they will continue making millions upon millions of dollars, and continues to feed their perpetually starving egos."
What they either don't realize -- or worse, don't care about -- is the extraordinary damage they are doing to our Democracy. They are treating serious issues as just more fodder for entertainment.
This week it's Judge Sonia Sotomayor single-handedly destroying the American judicial system. Last week it was National Health Care as the precursor to a Communist takeover. And next week? Who knows.
One thing I do know . . . and this really, truly angers me, is how childishly, how cavalierly, all these so-called "shapers of public opinion" go about frightening the daylights out of a vast swath of the American public. It's frighteningly reminiscent of Lillian Hellman's "The Children's Hour."
For those who don't remember, Hellman's play is set in an all-girls boarding school run by two women, Karen Wright and Martha Dobie. Mary Tilford, an angry, spiteful student, runs away from the school, and to avoid being sent back, tells her grandmother that the two headmistresses are having a lesbian affair. The accusation -- which suits Mary's diabolic purposes even though she is constantly aware of the fact that it's a lie -- destroys the women's careers, relationships and lives. To my way of thinking, there are a lot of folks out there who are auditioning for the part of Mary Tilford -- spreading horrendous untruths because it suits their diabolic purposes.
The politics behind a Supreme Court nomination should be more like a championship chess match than a lamentably long-forgotten -- though eminently relevant -- Broadway Play.
So why does the current match feel more like Lillian Hellman than Gary Kasparov?
©2009 Kurt F. Stone