Sonia Sotomayor became a District Court judge under former President George H.W. Bush, but that doesn’t mean Bush or any other Republican actually supported her nomination.
Obama claimed that her nomination by both Bush to the district court and former President Bill Clinton to the Federal Court of Appeals represents the kind of bipartisan appeal that is “a measure of her qualities and her qualifications.” But Bush’s putting her on the bench was merely part of a larger scheme of political tradeoffs, common with lower court judicial appointments, where one individual is approved to clear the way for another.
In Sotomayor’s case, New York Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat, and Alphonse D'Amato, a Republican, were involved in her nomination to the federal district court in 1991. Senators have the ability to block certain judges from their home state, and to avoid stalling every judge that was nominated, the Senators cooked up a system to expedite the process.
Byron York of the Washington Examiner quotes sources that say for every one judge Moynihan picked, D’Amato picked four. Sotomayor was Moynihan’s pick. Bush, in all likelihood, had very little to do with it, and was certainly not the first President to rubber stamp judges that were pushed through via insider deals with the opposite party.
“I’ve personally talked to judges stalled by Moynihan who he had nothing against,” said Robert Alt, Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “He just stalled them to make sure his [Democratic] nominees got pushed though.”