WASHINGTON -- After all is said and done in Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation proceedings, the fact of the matter is that she will not change the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court.
The appeals-court jurist will replace retiring Justice David Souter, one of the high court's four reliably liberal members. Many, if not most, of the cases heard by the conservative-leaning body are decided by 5-4 votes, and that ratio will remain unchanged.
For that, conservatives have President George W. Bush to thank. He is responsible for choosing Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito Jr., who shifted the court decidedly to the right. Both are still relatively young men and are expected to be on the court for many years to come. If further vacancies occur during Barack Obama's presidency, it's more than likely they will be among the older, much more liberal side of the bench than among its conservative warriors.
Sotomayor's confirmation is certainly not in doubt, especially with the number of Democratic senators pushing dangerously close to the 60 mark; nor is her mark in the court's history as the nation's first Hispanic justice and her compelling life story that has taken her from public-housing projects to the pinnacle of judicial achievement.
But her left-wing record and controversial remarks have raised deeply troubling concerns about legislating from the bench and racial prejudice that will give the Republicans plenty of ammunition in the testy confirmation debate to come.
Republicans won't be able to block her confirmation, expected in early August, if not before, but they will be able to exploit a number of issues that cut across all political lines -- especially the issue of reverse discrimination in the workplace.
After the Souter announcement, Obama said he wanted a Supreme Court nominee who has an empathetic "common touch" on the bench. That suggests someone who is an "activist judge," who is willing to look beyond the law, or perhaps, in some cases, disregard it altogether in order to reach a socially desired decision.
Sotomayor seemed to suggest that she was one of those judges when she said at a 2005 forum at Duke University that the appeals court is "where policy is made." She quickly tried to soften that remark by joking that she knew she should not have uttered such words at an event that was being recorded, adding that judges should never say they "make law."