Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What Republicans Got Out of the Sotomayor Hearings

Sonia Sotomayor will be confirmed to the Supreme Court. That is a given, as I’ve detailed before on this blog. So what, if anything, did Republicans get out of the confirmation hearings?

As it turns out, I think Republicans achieved everything they realistically could. First, they were able to put affirmative action on trial. They did this by asking repeatedly about the New Haven firefighter case—even going so far as to call Ricci himself to testify against Sotomayor. Ricci is perhaps the most sympathetic victim of affirmative action they could have found. Affirmative action is a tool they can use to drive a wedge between working class whites and the Democratic Party in the 2010 midterm elections.

On a related note, Republicans were able to put so called “political correctness” on trial. Several times, Republican Senators asked Sotomayor about her wise Latina comments. She was forced to back away from them and say that no ethnic group has an advantage over another in judging.” This probably doesn’t do much politically, but it does give some red meat to the Republican base.

Lastly, Republicans got Sotomayor to disavow Obama’s empathy criterion for picking judges. When asked whether empathy should decide cases, she said no. Republicans can now say “even Obama’s own nominee says empathy is a bad standard.” They will no doubt use this fact to try to pressure Obama into picking less liberal justices. At a minimum, Obama may tread more carefully when discussing the merits of empathy in the judiciary.

I don’t think Republicans hurt themselves too seriously with Hispanic voters in the hearings…yet. They have tried to be polite, and many praised her personal story. Surely some Hispanics found the constant questions about the wise Latina comments annoying. But this will be forgotten by the midterm elections next year as more pressing issues such as the economy take center stage.

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