The confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday will impact this nation for decades, on issues ranging from free speech to racial preferences to gun rights. It will also become a major issue in the 2010 midterm elections and the 2012 presidential election, an issue that more likely than not will backfire on Barack Obama to the benefit of the Republican Party.
Barack Obama was looking for a big political win from the Sotomayor confirmation. He chose a Hispanic woman with an interesting personal story. His staff and congressional allies then tried to make this nomination all about race and gender, playing identity politics and openly declaring that Republicans would pay a price if they did not vote for this nominee because of her gender and skin color.
But Thursday's vote was not a win for the White House. The latest Zogby poll showed that Americans were tied 49% to 49% on whether Sotomayor should be confirmed. That's worse than any Supreme Court nominee in recent history except for Harriet Miers. Even Judge Robert Bork had less opposition, with those favoring his confirmation exceeding those who opposed him by a three-percent margin.
Even among Hispanics, the group Obama was targeting with this nomination, a Gallup poll shows she lacks majority support, with 47% in favor and 43% opposed. Moreover, Zogby shows that a majority of independents oppose her, as do small business owners.
The final confirmation vote of 68 - 31, with poll numbers like these, means that President Obama has not scored the big win that he wanted with this nomination by playing racial politics. It's a mixed result at best, and if her rulings from the bench show a clear liberal philosophy then the end result will be negative for the White House and Democrats.
President Obama chose to pick a fight by nominating a controversial nominee. Sotomayor's speeches and court opinions on various issues have been unpopular and contentious, such as her racial preference case that the Supreme Court recently overturned in Ricci v. DeStefano. Obama passed over other female judges and scholars who are considered leading lights when it comes to liberal legal philosophy in naming Sotomayor, but now will likely not reap any benefits from his choice.
Now the fallout begins. The president and his party, and especially Senate Democrats from red states, will now have to answer for Sotomayor if she proves true to expectations as a solidly-liberal justice.