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Will Sotomayor be to Obama what Souter was to Bush 41? Doubtful

Sonia Sotomayor is a Supreme Court of the United States Associate Justice, thanks to the Senate’s 68-31 confirmation vote today.

I wonder whether she’ll deliver as advertised? Liberals hope she’ll be a liberal justice. Conservatives are certain of it.

But will she be?

Supreme Court nominees have a tendency to betray their nominator.

Judging by her rulings that have been reviewed by higher courts, she seems moderately liberal when it comes to civil liberties and really liberal when dealing with interstate commerce. But she’s a little more conservative when it comes to international commerce and intellectual property rights, which is mostly what the court deals with (for every affirmative action case there are a hundred international treaty cases).

So how will history connect her to Obama? Will she be to Obama what David H. Souter was to George H. W. Bush?

Souter is the greatest judicial appointment blunder in the court’s history. Even greater than Eisenhower’s appointment of Earl Warren as Chief Justice.

When Souter was nominated in 1990, Bush’s chief of staff John Sununu told Bush Souter was a conservative lock, that he’d be the next Antonin Scalia.

When Souter was confirmed, by a vote of 90-9, one of the nine opposed was the Senate’s liberal lion, Ted Kennedy, who likened Souter to Robert Bork the conservative’s conservative whose nomination was torpedoed by Democrats in 1987.

They weren’t even close in their assessments. Souter was one of the court’s staunchest liberals.


It seems unlikely that Sotomayor is the next Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas, which is what she’d have to be for this nomination to equal Bush’s colossal screw up with Souter.

Will she be to Obama what John Paul Stevens is to Gerald Ford?

Ford, a moderate to conservative Republican nominated what he thought was a moderate conservative.

Oops again.

Stevens started our mildly conservative but has become more and more liberal in his rulings over his more than 30 years on the bench.

Again, unlikely Sotomayor will stray to the right over the course of her term.

Will Sotomayor be to Obama what Anthony Kennedy is to Ronald Reagan?

Reagan was having a tough time filling Lewis Powell’s seat, with Bork getting rejected and Doug Ginsburg dropping out after admitting he smoked dope as a kid.

He had to pick someone who could get confirmed, and that meant a more moderate conservative.

That’s mostly what he got, though Kennedy is often thought of as the least intellectual and the most persuadable of all the justices on the court.

I doubt Sotomayor is close enough to the center to be a moderate liberal and serve as possible swing vote. But her rulings as an appellate judge are all over the place, so there’s a chance she could be the next Kennedy (more likely the next Sandra Day O’Connor, just more to the left of center).

No, my guess is Sotomayor will be to Obama what Scalia is to Reagan, what Thomas is to Bush 41, what Breyer is to Clinton and what Alito is to Bush 43.

They have all delivered as their nominator wanted.

I think Obama got what he wanted: A liberal justice.

But we won’t really know for three or four years.

Check back with me then.

By the way, anyone know what arch conservative Antonin Scalia’s confirmation vote was back in 1986 when the Senate had 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats?

It was 98-0.

Ahh, those were the days.

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