Young and Conservative

A Different Court Case: Sotomayor v. Thomas

by on Jun.05, 2009, under Uncategorized

When Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court of the United States, opposition was far from rampant, but those who criticized the nomination, such as Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, were loud and clear. Actually, it is rather difficult to find a third strong voice against her, and even Gingrich is backtracking from calling Sotomayor “racist.” Limbaugh has not, although because of Sotomayor’s unclear abortion record, he has said he may change his mind on whether or not to support her. Regardless, the main source of the claims of racism is a now well publicized 2001 quote from Sotomayor in which she said “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.” Many politicians, Democrats and Republicans, however, write it off as a poor choice of words (although she has actually said something similar on multiple occasions), and criticize anyone who uses the rhetoric that has come from people like Gingrich and Limbaugh. Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, called their comments “terrible.”

Ted Kennedy is still a U.S. Senator, even though in 1987 he said about Reagan Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork: “Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit in segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids…”

The second interesting thing about the Sotomayor nomination is what seems to be an assumed right that Sotomayor has to the seat. Polls indicate that most Americans say she should be confirmed. But a glance at the Senate confirmation votes in the past tells a curious story.

Souter 90-9 Scalia 98-0

Breyer 87-9 Thomas 52-48

Ginsberg 96-3 Roberts 78-22

Stevens 98-0 Alito 58-42

Kennedy 97-0 Bork 42-58

Of these 9 former justices and former nominee (Bork), the four most difficult nominations have all been conservatives. Scalia got nominated rather easily, but Democrats were split on Roberts (22-22), and heavily against Bork (53-2), Alito (40-4), and Thomas (46-11). Meanwhile, the four liberals and the one moderate got through rather easily. It is fair to ask why Sotomayor should be given a free pass onto the Supreme Court; perhaps only Democrats are allowed to oppose Supreme Court nominees.

The most famous example of this may be the Clarence Thomas nomination. George H.W. Bush (the president from 1989 to 1993) nominated him to replace the retiring Thurgood Marshall. His fight to be confirmed was famously difficult, mostly due to charges by former colleague Anita Hill that Thomas had sexually harassed her. The case against Thomas was and is sketchy at best and a blatant attempt at ruining a conservative African-American at any cost at worst. Prominent Democrats had problems with the nomination of Thomas, such as the senator who said: “I think that the only reason Clarence Thomas is on the Court is because he is black. I don’t believe he could have won had he been white. And the reason is, I think it was a cynical ploy by President Bush.” That prominent Democrat, if you clicked the link, was current Vice President Joe Biden.

Return to the criticism that Republicans have leveled on Sotomayor. Why is it that opposing Sotomayor is unacceptable, but opposition to Thomas (and other conservative judges) is fine? The answer is open ended. If the discussion is a direct comparison between Sotomayor and Thomas, then it must assume that Thomas’s background and ideas and perhaps he himself are inferior to the respective characteristics of Sotomayor. On the ideological level, it seems only opposition to conservative judicial nominees is legitimate.

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