No one who knows me would call me "reliably conservative" or, for the matter of that, "reliably liberal." I do tend toward a viewpoint revolving around upholding the Bill of Rights (strictly, and believing that it means what it says), privacy, personal responsibility, and personal freedom. As I've written previously, I listen to the views of moderates and extremists at both ends (as if political thought were a line segment) of the political spectrum.
During the presidential debates last summer there was the usual blather, easily tuned out as being quite predictable. But in the final debate, Bob Schieffer was questioning the candidates on their views with respect to selection of Supreme Court Justices. Obama stated that "the most important thing in any judge is their capacity to provide fairness and justice to the American People." My ears perked up at this, Obama has taught Constitutional Law. No mention of understanding of the history and meaning of the Constitution of the United States? No mention of common law and equity? I worried.
Now Obama has been presented with the opportunity to put his philosophy into practice. As with all Presidents before him, the rhetoric of his campaign has had to yield to the realities of the office in some cases (appointment of lobbyists to his team, Iraq withdrawal timetable and actualities, etc.) but for the most part he's done what he said he'd do. With respect to the Supreme Court, this is certainly the case. His nomination of Sonia Sotomayor clearly follows the tenets laid out in his debate statements. Of course, it also belies his pro forma statements that his choice will not be based on gender and ethnicity. It's a little far-fetched that the big pushes were to nominate a woman and a Hispanic and that his choice happened to be a Hispanic woman but that race and gender were not motivating factors. I really wish he'd not said something so transparently ridiculous.
More to the point, Justice Sotomayor, from all I've read and heard so far, is an exceptionally intelligent woman and one with an extraordinary record of personal accomplishment. But to what extent will she be able to live up to the oath that she will be required to take should she be confirmed? That oath would be as follows: "I, Sonia Sotomayor, do solemnly swear (or affirm) the I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as (title) under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God."
The quote being replayed most frequently on the conservative media outlets came from a panel in which Sotomayor participated at Duke University School of Law in 2005. She said "All of the legal defense funds out there, they're looking for people with court of appeals experience, because it is, court of appeals is where policy is made." She went on to say, accompanied by much laughing from the audience, "And... I know this is on tape, and I should never say that, because we don't make law, I know... I'm not promoting it and I'm not advocating it." The Southern California Pacifica outlet, KPFK, played a lengthy excerpt from that panel, implying that the "right wing media" was taking Sotomayor's comments out of context.
I'm no more a follower of right wing talking heads than left, but my impression of the entirety of that series of statements left me with the impression that Sotomayor was acknowledging that she was a policy maker but that, nudge nudge wink wink, "I shouldn't really say so." The audience clearly got the joke.
Sotomayor has also 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.” Excuse me? What if Justice Scalia had said "I would hope that a wise white male with the richness of his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina woman who hasn’t lived that life.” His public life would have been immediately over, he would have had to skulk off in disgrace accompanied by the hoots, hollers, and catcalls of the liberal orthodoxy. And, most importantly, RIGHTLY SO. Anyone who holds such views, even if he or she is savvy enough to not declare them outright, should be found out and precluded from judicial service.
Do I think that anyone is capable of machine-like objectivity with complete absence of any influence of his or her life experiences in rendering judicial opinions? Of course not. We're not, after all, Vulcans (I'm referring to old school original series Vulcans, not smarmy, horny, weepy Vulcans of the current Star Trek movie). But the constant goal of a Supreme Court Justice should be to approach, as closely as possible, such detachment. The Constitution of the United States, as amended, has ample protection for the underprivileged. Social policy, within its constraints, is to be determined by the Legislature and executed by the Executive branch as chosen by the electorate. The Judicial branch is tasked with assuring that neither of the other branches violates the protections afforded to the people in the Constitution, as amended.
I'm reasonably sure that, barring some hidden skeleton in Sotomayor's closet, she'll be confirmed. I'm alarmed that the single thing that concerned me most in Obama's pre-election statements is now being carried out in his Presidency. This looks to me like a big step toward government by feeling and not by rule of law. The subtext of much of Obama's domestic policy has revolved around wealth redistribution and social engineering. Given Sotomayor's statements and record, this appears to be a bold step toward pursuing that agenda.