When Republicans were warned not to give Sonia Sotomayor the drubbing Democrats gave Robert Bork and Sam Alito -- lest they be perceived as sexist and racist by women and Hispanics -- the threat was credible, for it underscored a new reality in American politics.
The Supreme Court, far from being the last redoubt of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant in America, reflects the collapse of that WASP establishment, and a rising racial, ethnic and gender consciousness and solidarity.
Consider. In 45 years, no Democratic president has put a single white Protestant or Catholic man or woman on the court.
Six nominees have been sent to Congress by Democrats since 1964: Thurgood Marshall, an African-American, four Jewish nominees -- Arthur Goldberg, Abe Fortas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer -- and one wise Latina woman. Not since JFK put All-American Byron "Whizzer" White on in 1962 have Democrats elevated a white Christian.
What about the Republicans?
Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford nominated seven to the court. All were white, all were male, all were Protestant: Warren Burger, Clement Haynsworth, Harrold Carswell, Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell, William Rehnquist and John Paul Stevens. No diversity there.
And from almost every standpoint, Nixon and Ford failed.
Two of Nixon's nominees, Haynsworth and Carswell, were rejected. Three of the four Nixon appointees who were elevated -- Burger, Blackmun and Powell -- voted for Roe v. Wade, which Blackmun wrote. Only Rehnquist turned out to be a stellar justice, among the best in a century.
Nixon had intended to appoint the first woman, Mildred Lillie of California, but was dissuaded by late resistance.
Ford's lone choice, John Paul Stevens, was approved unanimously, went to the court, turned left and has anchored the liberal wing for 34 years.
With Reagan, nearly three decades ago, Republican presidents became more ecumenical.
His first pick, as promised, was a woman, Sandra Day O'Connor. His second was the first Italian-American ever to sit on the high court, Antonin Scalia. His third was Bork, a Protestant. When Bork was rejected, Reagan chose Douglas Ginsburg, a Jewish judge and colleague of Bork's on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. When Ginsburg was pulled because of a marijuana incident in college days, Reagan went with Anthony Kennedy, an Irish Catholic judge from his home state of California.
Kennedy and O'Connor became swing votes and unreliable as constitutional conservatives. But, on diversity grounds, Reagan can hardly be faulted.