Monday, August 10, 2009

Our New Supreme Court Justice

The results are officially in now. Sonia Sotomayor is our next Supreme Court Justice. She was sworn in over the weekend. This is surely a proud day for Hispanics, as she is the first member of that ethnic group to hold such a powerful position. Here are some questions to ask about the whole thing:

1. What does this do for Obama?

Politically, this buys him some time on immigration reform, which a lot of Hispanic voters are clamoring for. There is simply no way Obama can address immigration this year while he deals with the economy and tries to achieve healthcare reform.

But in the short term, some issues may have hurt, particularly with white voters. Most notable are the “wise Latina” comments, and her ruling against white firefighter Frank Ricci. But I think at the end of the day, the economy will trump all other concerns for voters going to the polls next year, and in 2012. So I think this will wind up not having a big effect.

2. Did Republicans hurt themselves with Hispanics?

Maybe to some extent. They repeatedly asked her about her “wise Latina” comments. And at the end of the day, they’ll be seen to have voted against a highly qualified woman who happened also to be the first Hispanic nominated to the Supreme Court. But as I said earlier, the economy will trump all. If Republicans can’t articulate a coherent economic message next year, and in 2012, then Hispanic voters will be the least of their problems. If they do so, then many Hispanics will probably be inclined to forgive if the economy is doing poorly and the Republicans seem like they can help.

3. What kind of a Justice will Sotomayor make?

I have absolutely no idea. In the confirmation hearings, she simply explained what a precedent meant, and said that she respected it, often calling it “well-settled” law. John Roberts did much the same thing during his hearings. Many observers think she’ll be a moderate liberal. But who knows? Many of these same observers thought that David Souter would make a reliable conservative. That certainly turned out not to be the case. When Sotomayor is released from having to follow precedent, she may surprise us all.

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