The retirement of Supreme Court Justice David Souter, and the appointment by President Barack Obama of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as Souter's replacement, again brings to the forefront one of the most powerful roles that a U.S. president plays.
One of the main reasons that I was a strong supporter of John McCain (after Super Tuesday) was for this very scenario.
I believe that there is no greater role for the president of the United States than those of commander in chief and the appointer of federal judges. The most enduring mark a U.S. president leaves on the nation is with the federal judiciary.
Economic policies can be undone, defense policy can be reversed, education policy can be readdressed, and so on. However, federal judicial appointments are for life. Thus, it can literally take decades to reverse bad judicial rulings at the federal level.
In a speech to Planned Parenthood last year, Obama said, "We need somebody who's got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom; the empathy to understand what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges."
Hence, it should surprise no one that Obama appointed the "empathetic" Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. What is surprising is the argument by many that conservatives will have a hard time opposing this nominee because she is the first Hispanic appointee to the Supreme Court.
Liberals (and some conservatives) all over the place are touting Sotomayor as "filibuster-proof" because of her gender, her race and her "compelling life story." Therefore, her appointment is seen as another savvy, brilliant move by "The Anointed One." No such praise or political points were heaped upon George W. Bush in 2001 when he appointed Miguel Estrada to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
For over two years, Democrats shamelessly filibustered Estrada. Tired of the drawn-out fight, he withdrew his name for consideration for the seat in September 2003. Estrada's "compelling life story" (which certainly rivals Sotomayor's) and his "well qualified" rating from the American Bar Association notwithstanding, because the D.C. Circuit is widely seen as a steppingstone to the Supreme Court, Democrats were not about to let President Bush appoint a conservative Hispanic to such a position.
The battle over Estrada went on for 28 months. There were few, if any, cries of racism toward the Democrats, no political pressure for them to relent because Estrada was Hispanic. In fact, an internal memo to Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin reveals that a handful of liberal organizations desired to keep Estrada off the court because his Latino heritage made him "especially dangerous" and "the White House seems to be grooming him for a Supreme Court appointment."
Bush also appointed Alberto Gonzalez as attorney general. He was the first Hispanic appointed to one of the "big four" cabinet jobs. Bush appointed Colin Powell as secretary of state, the first black man to occupy the position. He later appointed Condoleezza Rice to succeed him atg the first black woman in the position.
It seems that there were a lot of "firsts" when it came to Bush and minorities. In 2004, USA Today noted, "With little fanfare and not much credit, President Bush has appointed a more diverse set of top advisers than any president in history."
"Not much credit" is putting it mildly. As often as liberals are lauded for their progressive views toward minorities, conservatives are vilified. It is one of the greatest myths perpetuated today that liberals are for minorities and conservatives are not. Whether it comes to Clarence Thomas, Miguel Estrada, Alberto Gonzalez, et al., liberals have no qualms about going hard after conservative minorities, and they are not made to pay for it politically in the media. The same luxury is not afforded conservatives who go after liberal minorities.
To firmly oppose Sotomayor, what conservatives must do is keep the debate framed around the issues and her liberal judicial philosophy. No matter how often the attempt is made to frame the debate around race, gender and her "compelling story," conservatives must treat Sotomayor as any other liberal with the wrong ideas about the judiciary.
After all, it would be discrimination to do otherwise.
Trevor Thomas is a Gainesville resident and frequent columnist. His columns appear regularly; Web site.