President Obama hit a home run by nominating Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court because the GOP cannot really oppose her on the so-called “merits” without, to be candid, looking ridiculous.
Consider this: Sotomayor is from poor working-class roots. Her father died when she was 9. She worked her way to and through the nation’s finest Ivy League schools with scholarships. With the support of a mother from Puerto Rico who was a nurse, she and her only brother (who, by the way, is a medical doctor) pulled themselves up “by the proverbial boot straps.”
This is a Republican’s dream come true. Is it not?
Even more troubling for Republicans is that Sotomayor was nominated to the U.S. District Court by Republican President George H.W. Bush. She was elevated to the Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton, and her elevation to the Supreme Court was, in my view, inevitable. By choosing her, Obama showed a stroke of genius and made a bold move toward solidifying his base of support among Hispanics.
The statement released by RNC Chairman Michael Steele on the Sotomayor nomination said it all: “Republicans will reserve judgment on Sonia Sotomayor until there has been a thorough and thoughtful examination of her legal views.”
Wow! Talk about cowering in a corner. I was shocked because I fully expected the first official statements from the GOP leadership to come out hard against Sotomayor because of some of her legal decisions, particularly the most recent controversy over her holding in the case of the white New Haven firefighters who sued the city for discrimination.
Could it be that the GOP’s problem is that they don’t want to pick this fight on so-called cultural issues like affirmative action? I think not.
So what explains Steele’s tepid statement as well as the few statements we have seen from Republicans in Congress so far?
The GOP conservative base is stepping back and wringing their hands over what they privately admit was a shrewd political choice by the president.
Senate Republicans are holding their fire. For example, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.)—perhaps the most conservative member of the Senate—said that some of Sotomayor’s writings "seem to raise serious questions about her approach to the Constitution and the role of the federal judiciary."
But that’s about as far as he was willing to go, and he even vowed to “withhold judgment” on Sotomayor’s nomination “until she has the opportunity to fully present her views before the Senate."
Another conservative, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, said Sotomayor "deserves fair and open hearings and a dignified confirmation process."
Bottom line: The GOP needs Hispanic voters en masse if it is ever to become a governing majority party again. This choice seems difficult for a party that is mostly white, male and Southern. Look for Republicans to raise some objections to her legal opinions, but to walk very gingerly on issues of her race, gender and wonderful American immigrant success story.
Sophia A. Nelson is admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court and is a regular contributor to The Root.