Balance: Supreme Court should mirror America

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 2, 2009

There is a certain symmetry in a president representing one historic first nominating a Supreme Court justice representing yet another.

There is also a certain predictability in reactions to Supreme Court nominees from the left or right, depending on whether the president at the time is liberal or conservative.

One side or the other will always be available to explain how the fabric of the nation is coming unglued.

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Federal Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic on the high court if she wins Senate confirmation.

She brings to the nomination a judicial and legal record that should make for a speedy confirmation — should being the operative word here.

There has been talk of the Republicans using President Barack Obama’s nominee as the fulcrum upon which to make the case he’s hopelessly misguided. If this means shrill denunciation for politics’ sake, the Republicans should recognize that such tactics would not bring the party out of the wilderness.

Many seem to have come to that conclusion. Perhaps, as well, conservatives might note that as one of nine justices, Sotomayor can do less of what they consider to be harm than she could as a solo appeals judge or member of a three-member panel.

Which is not to say that Sotomayor’s record and remarks shouldn’t be scrutinized.

Her decision as part of one of those three-judge panels affirming a lower court ruling that allowed New Haven, Conn., to cancel firefighter promotions because no African-Americans were among the selectees determined by the exam is bizarre. The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to overturn that decision, which was delivered in an unpublished order.

Also bearing examination is her remark that a Latina “with the richness of her experiences” would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white man who hasn’t lived that life. “Different.” Yes. “Better.” That evinces an air of superiority that would be unsettling regardless of the race, creed or color of the speaker.

But a nominee should not be judged on one ruling nor one remark. A president should be given wide leeway to have the nominee he chooses confirmed, a case we made in urging approval of Samuel Alito and John Roberts, nominated by George W. Bush.

It is no different now that it is an Obama presidency and he nominates someone who is likely more closely aligned with his views and those of the nearly 70 million people who elected him.