The Sotomayor Hearings

The U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee begins its confirmation hearings today for nominee Sonya Sotomayor. The Post had a great piece yesterday from her collegiate mentor at Princeton that shows her to be precisely the kind of hard-working, fair-minded, and deeply read person we want on the Court.

It appears that Sotomayor’s nomination is assured but that does not mean the hearings will be boring, as another article in this morning’s paper indicates. This may be the GOP’s last chance to rehearse the Nixon strategy of playing to white resentment, a strategy that might work for fending off a primary challenge from the base but could also continue to alienate Latino voters from the Republican ranks. George W. Bush, who supported comprehensive immigration reform, garnered 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2004 but that support collapsed after the GOP in Congress killed the immigration reform effort and the primaries forced even John McCain to abandon his support for it. McCain only took 30 percent of the Latino vote according to exit polls, a drop that cost him the states of Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and most likely Florida as well.


Sotomayor is from Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans have had very different experiences of life in America from that of other Latinos. For starters, they are already citizens, so they do not have to face the hurdle of attaining a legal status here. Their immigration to the states came before either the Cuban emigration of the 1960s or the large increase in Central American workers over the past several decades. This is why Puerto Ricans often, like Sotomayor, are the first to break through the glass ceilings.

You can pick almost any sector of the government or business and find a talented Puerto Rican in place. I once had a truly bizarre incident that highlights this point. I was preparing to move to Little Rock and was making a round of phone calls to say good-bye. On one such, I forgot to put in the area code digits. A person picked up the phone at the other end of the line and said, "White House Situation Room." Oops. But, here was the freaky part. The person who picked up the phone was a Puerto Rican State Department official who I have known since he was born. His name was further down on my list of people to call. It took us awhile to figure out what had happened.

In the ecclesiastical realm, Puerto Ricans have a slightly different status because in the Church, Puerto Rico is part of Latin America, not part of the U.S. So, Archbishop of San Juan Roberto Gonzalez, is a member of CELAM not the USCCB, but he attends the USCCB meetings as an observer and, because he served previously as bishop of Corpus Christi and auxiliary in Boston, he is often in the states as he was this past Saturday for the ordination of J. Augustine DiNoia, O.P. to the episcopate. Also, Puerto Ricans paved the way, in a negative manner, for other Latinos. In the 1950s, Cardinal Spellman refused to build national parishes for the Puerto Ricans the way the Church had done for the Poles and the French and the Hungarians. Evangelicals made strong inroads into the Puerto Rican community by opening small churches in their neighborhoods. By the time the Cubans and Central Americans came, the U.S. Church recognized the need of having a special apostolate.

There is one lesson I hope the White House does not learn from the hearings. In the post, a liberal activist argues, "The stronger the vote [for Sotomayor], the stronger is the message to the president and his team that we have some bandwidth here, or some leeway for more progressive nominees. That’s why there’s so much energy for a candidate that you pretty much know is going to be confirmed." I think the reason Sotomayor is such a slamdunk is not because of liberal bandwidth, but precisely because she is not overly liberal, because she brings experience as a trial judge that no other justice has, and because even on the cases where you disagree with her decisions, it is not hard to see how she was trying to apply Supreme Court precedents. I hope the President recognizes that nominating centrist to the bench helps him with mainstream, independent voters. The activists who want the president to lurch to the left have to ask themselves one question: How will your proposed course of action play with a voter who went for Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2008? Those are the voters that matter most and I suspect the President and his team are acutely aware of that.

So, tune in to the hearings. They will permit all Americans to get to know Sotomayor better, as well as how the GOP plans to mold itself for the future. I suspect she will shine and I suspect the GOP senators will be less hostile than their activist base wants. There will be no Borking this time round and much of the credit for that fact goes to President Obama for nominating such a top flight judge.


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
9 years 6 months ago
One further take away is the possibility that the GOP many continue to embarrass itself.  If by pandering to it more populist and nativist constituencies, it becomes identified as a regional, mono-racial party, it will hasten its own demise and make for a bad month for itself.
9 years 6 months ago
Sadly, this piece portrays a very simplistic understanding of the Puerto
Rican context, especially the colonial relationship with the United States and
its implications for religious matters-Catholic as well as Protestant. The
complex Protestant heritage of Puerto Rico is more than a century old and in
part related to the US colonization of the island in 1898.

Furthermore, Sonia Sotomayor is a Puerto Rican born and raised in the Bronx,
NY. Her interest in matters concerning Puerto Rico is evident in the topic of
her senior thesis at Princeton University. Her parents are US citizens from
Puerto Rico who migrate to New York. As one would not refer to a citizen who
moved from New Jersey to New York as an immigrant, the same holds true for
Puerto Ricans. They are not immigrants.  The recent Pew Report on Puerto
Ricans seems to indicate that even citizenship is not a ticket to opportunity [url=][/url]

It is also worth noting while the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is a member of
CELAM, the English-speaking US Virgin Islands are a part of the USCCB and the
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Territory of American Samoa,
and the Territory of Guam all belong to the Episcopal Conference of the

One would hope that the current reality of the US Catholic Church, with our Latin@
plurality, would invite respectful analysis and not a condescending remark like
“You can pick almost any sector of the government or business and find a
talented Puerto Rican in place.”

Carmen Nanko-Fernández
9 years 6 months ago
Frankly, given her previous rulings and the fact that no one has ever asked her otherwise, I would not be shocked if she stood with Kennedy, Roberts and Alito on the Abortion issue (settled law, regulating partial birth is within the scope of the Commerce Clause).  She may eventually allow an Obama sponsored bill to extend legal protection for the unborn to the 24th or 30th week, with or without a moderate health exception.  Ginsberg, Biden and Stevens likely would not, nor would Souter.
9 years 6 months ago
I completely agree with Nanko-Fernandez's comments. Sound analysis, nuance and accuracy are not dispensable when dealing with Latinos/as... especially when they are almost half of ALL Catholics in the U.S.
9 years 6 months ago
I second Michael's point. The extreme far right neocons has completely overtake the Republican Party. Latest CNN poll show most Republican voterss (two out of three) are opposing Sotomayor's nomination (see This gives little incentive for any Republican senator to defect from the party line and vote to support her. They will vote to support their base, who wants the party to oppose Obama for any policy proposals and candidates he proposes, no matter how sound (or qualified) they are.
I expect a down and dirty fight until the very last second, with a mostly party-line vote (the two Maine moderate GOP senators would be the only ones daring to break the party line).
9 years 6 months ago
I've enjoyed your posts so much recently, and then you come up with this:
''I suspect she will shine and I suspect the GOP senators will be less hostile than their activist base wants. There will be no Borking this time round and much of the credit for that fact goes to President Obama for nominating such a top flight judge.''
You, of course, remember that it was the Democrats who invented and perfected ''Borking''?  If I'm not mistaken, Judge Bork is a Catholic as well?  I was impressed that the Republicans today so strongly held their ground without taking the path that those good Catholic senators Kennedy & Biden took last time in accusing that good Catholic justice, Alito, of being a racist.  Funny how that line of questioning was not called "hostile" or "Borking" by the media.  Or of baselessly accusing so many other good men and women of being racists (I'm thinking of Judge Pickering especially).  Of course, don't forget that they ''pandered'' to their nativist base by defending Miguel Estrada's nomination, a nomination stalled and attacked by the left.  Sorry, I try to be fair-minded, but the Democratic party has completely ruined judicial nominations, and as a consequence, in my view, ruined itself.  Lindsey Graham's statement today is a much clearer expression of my opinion.


The latest from america

An extraordinary minister of the holy Eucharist distributes Communion during Mass at Transfiguration Church in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
According to a report released by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University on Jan. 22, just 33 percent of bishops in the United States think the church “should” ordain women as deacons.
Michael J. O’LoughlinJanuary 22, 2019

When the poet Mary Oliver died last week at the age of 83, my social media feeds blossomed into a field of tributes.

Lisa AmplemanJanuary 22, 2019
Most of the undocumented immigrants who are in the United States have overstayed a visa and did not cross the border illegally, according to a new analysis from the Center of Migration Studies.
J.D. Long-GarcíaJanuary 22, 2019
The church is my home because my home was a domestic church.
Katie Prejean McGradyJanuary 22, 2019