The prime focus of concern since Judge Sonia Sotomayor was nominated for the Supreme Court has been on what extent, freed from the constraint of appellate reversal of her judicial opinions, she might apply her racial and gender philosophy. Her speeches and her long record of support for ethnic activism might influence her work on the Court, secure in life tenure and answerable to no higher authority.
But her confirmation testimony suggests that she is not likely to be a persuasive influence on the eight other Justices, each of whom has strong convictions. Even swing Justices, though not tethered ideologically, are likely to prefer narrower grounds of decision than their more ideological colleagues desire.
What should really worry opponents of Judge Sotomayor are the influences she might exercise outside the court, especially on students. Her transparently mendacious disavowals of racial and gender activism outside chambers augur for more activism once she is safely ensconced as an Associate Justice. For if it is reasonable for her supporters to assume that she will continue to restrain her personal views when sitting on the Court, it is equally reasonable for opponents to assume that she will continue to agitate for her favored causes outside the court.
Yet GOP senators did the right thing in not trying to block a vote on her nomination. There is an ancient Chinese admonition about being careful for what one wishes for. Recall a pair of confirmation battles in 1993.
Bill Clinton's first two Attorney-General nominees were moderate Democrats Zoe Baird, a corporate attorney, and Judge Kimba Wood. They both went down over the first Nannygate scandals: failing to pay Social Security taxes on full-time maids they had hired. The upshot: we got Janet Reno for eight years, the ultimate nightmare who gave us (1) the Waco Massacre in 1993, which may have contributed to the Oklahoma City bombing two years later; (2) the 1995 "wall" separating law enforcement and intelligence activities–this even after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing carried out by Egyptian Islamists, a scary harbinger of the coming September 11 atrocities; (3) the 2000 snatching at gun-point of little Elian Gonzalez, frustrating the wishes of his mother, who gave her life to the Caribbean porting Elian to freedom. Reno delivered him into the clutches of his deadbeat Dad and, worse still, into the clutches of Fidel Castro, who made Elian into a Communist poster child.
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