The Republicans rant and froth at the mouth over Obama’s choice of Sonia Sotomayor for Supreme Court Justice, taking quotes out of context and using her membership in Hispanic organizations as they try to paint her into a corner as a racist. The left is giddy with diversity as a Latina and woman was Obama’s choice, and of course women and minorities should be better represented on the Supreme Court.
Jackie Robinson was chosen to be the first African American to play in the major leagues because he was, of course, African American but also because of his amazing talent. Thurgood Marshall was the first African American to serve on the US Supreme Court. Appointed by Lyndon Johnson, Marshall had won 29 of 32 cases he litigated before the court as the Chief Counsel of the NAACP. Marshall was, first of all, a champion for African American people, but most of all was a defender of the Constitution for all American people. His choice was not just an achievement for African Americans but for all Americans as his presence on the court threw long, towering shadows.
Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh use quotes taken out of context to describe Sotomayor as a racist. Keith Olbermann, on the other hand, finds quotes made by Justice Samuel Alito and even archconservative Anton Scalia trying to make the same point, that where we come from shades our opinions. But it struck me as odd that while Olbermann was trying to defend Sotomayor it was having the opposite affect on me. She talks just like Alito and Scalia? That’s supposed to make me feel better?
The problem is that with the Supreme Court, in most cases, they set precedent, while on the Appeals Court they merely follow precedent. She was first appointed to the bench by George H. W. Bush and promoted to the Court of Appeals by Bill Clinton. She has ruled both for and against environmentalists on issues, voting to enforce the original intent of the Clean Water Act but siding against environmentalists on New York’s plan to curb ozone emissions.
In her only abortion-related court decision during her 11 years on the Court of Appeals, Sotomayor wrote, “The Supreme Court has made clear that the government is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position, and can do so with public funds.”
Sotomayor has also upheld the Mexico City Policy, which has since been overturned by the President. This policy prohibits federally funded non-governmental organizations from promoting abortion as a family planning measure in other countries.
In short, she is almost an exact replica of the retiring Souter who was appointed by George H.W. Bush. While she has much experience, she has done little to distinguish herself as a great legal mind. I don’t think she is a bad choice and under a Republican administration I might consider her a good choice. But is this change? Is she our champion? With the burning constitutional issues of torture and executive privilege before us, is Sotomayor the best candidate the President finds available?
President Johnson was able to appoint Thurgood Marshall because of high popularity numbers and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. So I’ll ask again, is this the best Obama can do? To nominate a candidate with no apparent fervor in either direction, a bureaucrat doing corporate America's bidding. A Federal Appeals Court Justice insulated and removed from the average American.
We are far from being a post-racial society, but we are far enough down the road to see that anyone of any background receiving the education and experience can grow up to think like conservative white men. That there is more to being a champion of your people than the color of your skin or the pronunciation of your last name.
Dr. King dreamed of a world where people would not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character. This is where I find myself in divergence with Sotomayor. We have lived through twenty of the last twenty-nine years with right wing Republican zealots appointed to the court with only the two of the most heinous and unqualified turned back.
Obama ran for office promising change! He was going to change the way the government does business. He was going turn us away from neocon zealotry and given his first shot he appoints a candidate closer to Alito and Souter than anyone now on the court. Where is our champion? Where is an appointment that will turn the courts back towards the direction of Thurgood Marshall?
How about Al Gore for the Supreme Court, or Robert F. Kennedy Jr.? Kennedy is a legal professor who has worked at all levels of the court system. He was named by Time.com as a Hero for the Planet. We, as a people, were promised CHANGE, not change. Since the 2000 election the Supreme Court has become nothing more than a right wing rubber stamp. We deserve new blood and new thinking, a champion of the people and of the Constitution. The Republicans are going to howl no matter who Obama selects, so why not give them something to really howl about?
Imagine the sweet irony of Justice Albert Gore on the Supreme Court; imagine the Exxon executives trying to sleep at night. Imagine a country where the people have a representative on the court. Imagine Justice Dennis Kucinich on the court, an advocate for peace and for jobs and for workers. You see, it is not so hard. There are lots of people qualified and more than qualified to do a hell of a job, to throw the brakes on the direction of the court and turn it around.
Sotomayor might make a fine justice, but Jackie Robinson didn’t make it to the majors because he was merely expected to be a fine second baseman for the Dodgers. It was because he had the trappings of greatness. Roberto Clemente is remembered for his great baseball talents but even more for his greatness of person. He wasn’t just a credit to the Latino community or to baseball but to humanity as a whole.
Sotomayor’s record on the Appeals Court shows that she works inside the system to protect the system. She does not sway from the straight and narrow, nor does she tarry in carrying the corporate water. She’s not the worst choice that could have been made, but she is certainly not the best choice that Obama could have made. She is more of the same game. She is no Caesar Chavez or Che Guevara. She’s not even Luis Aparicio; she is closer to Clarence Thomas or Eddie Gaedel.