Soft Landing For Sotomayor

While the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ruling that was in part made by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, the political implications for her confirmation seemed somewhat muted, especially with the Congress out of town.

A review of the 5-4 decision in favor of the white firefighters from New Haven, CT certainly works against her in the sense that her appeals court ruling which sided with the city was deemed to have been incorrect.

Even the four justices who backed the city like Sotomayor, used a different evaluation for what should have been done than the Second Circuit.

But whether it will leave any big time chinks in her armor is another question, as there were barely any references to her appeals panel’s consideration of the case and no direct jabs at her in the decision itself.

Don’t get me wrong – this will certainly be an issue in her confirmation hearings, which begin on July 13, but it might not be a “game changer” on her nomination, as without any zingers about the Second Circuit’s handling of the case, there wasn’t much new fuel added to the fire against her.

But that doesn’t mean critics shouldn’t give it a shot.

“Justice is supposed to be blind, but the opinion she joined in the Ricci case – now overturned by the Supreme Court – shows Sonia Sotomayor believes justice should be based on ethnicity,” said Mychal Massie, who runs a conservative black leadership network called Project 21.

Democrats immediately rallied behind Sotomayor, arguing it will have little impact on her confirmation.

“It would be wrong to use today’s decision to criticize Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who sat on the panel of the Second Circuit that heard this case,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sharp-eyed listeners immediately sent me multiple links to stories back in the Bush Administration, when Leahy specifically said that a nominee’s rulings which have been rejected by the Supreme Court should receive extra scrutiny.

(Ahhh, the sweet smell of politics!)

For now at least, the bottom line seems to be pretty simple.  This case will play a role in the confirmation hearings of Judge Sotomayor.

But because she is replacing a Justice who voted the same way she did on the matter, there is no practical “change” in terms of how the new Court would deal with the issue, and that means less controversy, just because it means less controversy.

Sotomayor’s hearings begin on July 13. While she might be favored to win approval right now, the usual caveat is that it all depends on how she answers the questions and deals with Senators.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee should carefully examine Judge Sotomayor’s role in the Second Circuit’s opinion on this case,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas.)

“Discrimination and racial preferences have no place in our courts, let alone on the highest court in the land,” he added.


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