by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ian Millhiser and Nate Carlile
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Judge Sonia Sotomayor is well-qualified to serve as a Supreme Court Justice, with more federal judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in 100 years. Her loyalty to settled law is, in the words of the Congressional Research Service, "the most consistent characteristic of Sotomayor's approach as an appellate judge." And she is tremendously popular; Americans overwhelmingly support her confirmation to the nation's highest court. Even Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), in a surprising moment of candor, told Sotomayor that she would be confirmed "unless you have a complete meltdown." Yet, as Sotomayor's elevation to the Court grows increasingly inevitable, conservatives are the ones melting down. They are using Sotomayor's confirmation hearings to hurl more and more desperate attacks.
A TAINTED LEADER: In what may be the biggest strategic blunder since Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) chose Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) as his running mate in the 2008 presidential election, Republicans selected Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as their point person on the Sotomayor hearing. Sessions, whose own nomination to the federal bench was rejected by the Senate in 1986, has a long history of controversial statements about race. He once quipped that he "used to think [the KKK] were OK" until he found out some of them were "pot smokers." He routinely referred to an African-American attorney who worked for him as "boy," and he once warned that attorney to "be careful what you say to white folks" after Sessions overheard him chastising a white secretary. Yesterday, at Sotomayor's confirmation hearing, Sessions wondered aloud how Sotomayor could have voted differently than another judge of "Puerto Rican ancestry." So, it's odd that conservatives would pick this man as their leading voice against the first Latina nominated to the Supreme Court. The selection suggests that Senate conservatives wholeheartedly embrace Sessions' views on race.
SOUTHERN STRATEGY: It is clear, however, that Sessions is the architect of the conservative strategy against Sotomayor. In a campaign that echoes Lee Atwater's infamous Willie Horton ad and Jesse Helms' "white hands" ad, attacks on Sotomayor have focused almost exclusively on race. Rush Limbaugh, the de facto leader of the Republican Party, called Sotomayor's remarks "worse than Macaca," claiming that she "doesn't have any intellectual depth" and that she is a "bigot" and a "racist." Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) spent six uninterrupted minutes lecturing Sotomayor about her so-called "wise Latina" speech during yesterday's hearings. And conservative senators repeatedly raised the specter of Frank Ricci, the white firefighter whose discrimination claim was rejected by a panel of judges that included Sotomayor, even though Sotomayor simply followed a 1984 precedent, whose facts are nearly identical to those presented by Ricci's case, when she considered his claim. Apparently conservatives believe the facts must take a backseat to race-baiting.
THE KITCHEN SINK: Race may have been the centerpiece of Sessions' playbook against Sotomayor, but in their desperation to keep her off the Court -- or at least tar her as a liberal extremist -- conservatives have resorted to throwing everything they can imagine at the nominee. The right-wing Committee for Justice, whose leadership played a key role in selecting President Bush's nominees, launched an ad yesterday claiming that Sotomayor led a terrorist organization, and linking her to "Obama's buddy Bill Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist who bombed American buildings in the seventies." Meanwhile, conservative senators have accused her of being hostile to the Second Amendment, even though her only major Second Amendment decision relied entirely on a binding Supreme Court precedent. They have painted her as an enemy of property rights, citing an eminent domain decision where she held that a land developer who filed his eminent domain case two years after the statute of limitations had run shouldn't get a special exception from the law. And many have repeatedly claimed that Sotomayor is disqualified because President Obama once said that judges should have "empathy." Amusingly, when NPR pointed out that forbidding judges who use empathy in their decision-making would bar ultra-conservative Justice Samuel Alito from the bench, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) responded that he shouldn't have voted in favor of Justice Alito. Ultimately, however, no one actually believes that conservatives are regretting their support for Alito -- and certainly no one believes the Committee for Justice's claim that Sotomayor is akin to terrorists. Conservatives are simply demonstrating, once again, that they will say absolutely anything to obstruct President Obama's agenda, no matter the facts.