Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Opposition to Sotomayor satisfies extreme-right base, nothing more

Former presidential candidate and current Arizona Sen. John McCain says he plans to oppose the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court when she comes up for vote in the full Senate later this week.

"Regardless of one’s success in academics and in government service," McCain said, "an individual who does not appreciate the common sense limitations on judicial power in our democratic system of government ultimately lacks a key qualification for a lifetime appointment to the bench."

According to McCain, the politics of a person's heritage should never play a part in a judge's decisions -- which is why he opposed Samuel Alito's confirmation to the High Court in 2006 after Alito divulged he took such considerations into account, citing his Italian background and his parents' lives as immigrants as helpful in forming a judicial decision. Said Alito: "...when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant, I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position."

At least McCain was consistent, right? Except he wasn't. McCain voted a resounding 'yes,' confirming Alito even though he, like Sotomayor, cited the importance of empathy (Alito did so DURING his confirmation, however, while Sotomayor's comments came years ago). That McCain now finds a problem with Sotomayor's use of background in helping her to be a better judge, but had no problems when Alito said he did the same thing, speaks volumes.

I'm not suggesting that John McCain favors one person's heritage over another, or that he's a racist; I'll leave such talk to Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Lou Dobbs, who seem to be the authorities on such subjects. More likely, McCain is succumbing to political pressures from hard line conservatives, who have hijacked the Republican Party in recent months, and are demanding that the party submit to their ideals and beliefs, including the opposition of a Latina judge or some more outlandish requests (see also: Birthers).

Should a judicial nominee be scrutinized? Of course: a lifetime appointment is nothing to take lightly. However, Congressional Republicans have focused more on speeches Sotomayor has made and disregarded the thousands of rulings she has taken part in, where it's evident that she has ruled in favor of the laws before her and the stare decisis that preceded the cases in question.

People often say that actions speak louder than words; were it the other way around, with Sotomayor ruling strictly out of empathy but publicly stating the importance of judicial norms and principles, Republicans could make the case that she would make a terrible justice for the Court.

However, that isn't the case: in speeches, she says empathy plays a part, but in practice she has ruled based out of precedent and law. By ignoring how well-qualified Judge Sotomayor is in her rulings, the GOP has done this nation a disservice. They ought to be ashamed for having submitted to outside pressures in order to satisfy a growing extreme-right base.

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