Sotomayor: Political Confidence or Political Savvy?

Over on his Fix blog at the Washington Post, uber-political journalist Chris Cillizza has written that Obama's pick of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court reflects Obama's "supreme confidence that even a united GOP can't beat the White House." Cillizza is, all too often, right about just about everything, and his opinion here also reflects the larger consensus of political thought. But in this case, Cillizza and conventional wisdom are dead wrong. If anything, from a political standpoint, the Sotomayor pick seems engineered specifically to avoid such a confrontation with a united GOP.

The choice of a Hispanic woman places Republican senators from Western states in a particular bind. Of course, such senators are few and far between these days, the GOP being essentially a Southern regional party. Indeed, the membership of the nigh-extinct species Republicanus Westernus stands at seven to nine members, depending on whether one counts Idaho's two GOP senators as being "Western" in the same sense that the pair of Republicans from Utah, Wyoming or Arizona are. Add to them the single Republican from Nevada, John Ensign, and you've accounted for them all. Particularly in the Southwest, the Hispanic voting base has, as political junkies (and if you're reading this on HuffPo, congratulations, you're probably one) are all well aware, become all important. Given the Hispanic demographic's tendency to go Democrat in huge numbers in every recent major election with the exception of 2004, it's not hard to see that the three Johns -- McCain, Kyl (in his case, Jon) and Ensign -- can ill-afford to block the Sotomayor nomination.

Significantly, Kyl also happens to be the Senate Minority Whip. Imagine a scenario in which an organized GOP opposition to Sotomayor does not include the very man whose job it is to organize said opposition. Combine this with John McCain's previous membership in the 109th Congress' "Gang of 14," which sought to derail judicial filibusters by the minority party. Now, add to that the obvious Democratic defense of Sotomayor that, Hey, George H.W. Bush placed her on the bench in the first place, and a united GOP front in the Senate becomes a dim likelihood.

So, far from expressing confidence in the White House's ability to derail a united GOP opposition to Obama's Supreme Court nominee, the nomination of Sotomayor seems specifically designed to prevent such a united front from ever occurring.

Of course, in choosing the next Supreme Court nominee, such political considerations should really take a backseat to more pertinent ones like, oh, maybe "Will this person be a good Supreme Court justice?" Check out ScotusBlog's review of Sotomayor's career here. Putting all the political maneuvering aside, she sounds like a damned good judge. Her decisions against Freedom of Information Act requests in Tigue vs. DOJ and Wood vs. FBI give me some pause, but other than that, she seems as though she'll be a great addition to the Court.