Gavel Grab

Sotomayor: After the Vote, Applause and Analysis

Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s elevation to the U.S. Supreme Court by a divided Senate not only marks  an historic milestone but also fuels debate over what it means for the next Supreme battle.

Those are the themes that emerged in news media and the blogosphere after the Senate voted 68 to 31 to make Judge Sotomayor, 55, the first Hispanic and third woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

Across the country, some Hispanics at usually noisy gathering places fell into hushed silence as spectators watched the Senate roll call vote on TV, and erupted in jubilation when the vote concluded, USA Today reported. Others cried with joy.

“Her story is our story,” said Janet Murguia, president of the largest Hispanic civil rights organization, the National Council of La Raza, according to USA Today.

In Puerto Rico, home of Judge Sotomayor’s parents, the owner of a clothing store in downtown Mayaguez said the judge’s achievement made Latinos feel part of the country’s fabric for the first time. “We have representation that we’ve never had before,” Sergio Zeligman told USA Today.

The Hispanic newspaper El Tiempo Latino posted a photograph (see above) of a beaming Judge Sotomayor atop its Web site with the headline, “Confirman a la jueza Sotomayor.” She was raised in a housing project in the South Bronx, lost her father at a young age and rose through Ivy League schooling to become a New York prosecutor and later a federal judge.

In the political arena, the Senate vote–which never was in doubt–handed President Obama’s administration “a significant, early win in the judicial confirmation wars,” according to the Blog of Legal Times.

Nonetheless Republicans  suggested they successfully  framed the debate in a manner that could affect the nominees whom Obama names to the federal judiciary in the future, the Washington Post reported.

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, was quoted by the Post as saying if Obama nominates candidates who believe that judges should be guided in part by empathy, “I don’t think that would play well…It could hurt this administration in other areas.”

Mario Diaz commented in that an Obama-set “standard” of empathy for judges was defeated, and liberals had lost. “The defibrillator is out, and they’ll try to give the empathy standard ‘mouth-to-mouth,’ but it’s too late. They can try to hide the body, but they won’t be able to get rid of the smell.”

And the Wall Street Journal reported that  “Republicans say the show of party unity will discourage Mr. Obama from choosing a more liberal candidate in future picks and that the arguments they developed against Judge Sotomayor set a precedent for rejecting what they see as ‘activist’ judges.”

Not so fast, retorted others, including Democrats pleased with their victory. According to the Journal, Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York questioned whether Republicans may actually have lost leverage to affect the next Supreme Court pick.  “If they oppose someone as moderate as Sotomayor, then the president will think, ‘Who wouldn’t they oppose?’” Schumer said.

Lawyer/analyst Tom Goldstein of Akin Gump said, “I can’t imagine this president nominating someone more conservative than Judge Sotomayor, so there is no hope for bipartisanship in the next nomination.”

During her nomination hearing, Judge Sotomayor discussed  legal precedents while carefully declining to take a stand on legal questions that are unsettled, and she insisted she had to keep her mind open about potential future cases.

To learn more about Judge Sotomayor’s nomination, see previous postings in Gavel Grab, or visit Justice at Stake’s resource page.

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