“Reverse racism!”, cries the right, while the left screams, “About time!”
The centrists are left to do the math. Sotomayor has good qualifications. She is a graduate of Princeton and Yale law. She does not have any skeletons in her closet (yet!), which leaves the right splitting hairs on her rulings.
Hispanics used to occupy a sizable portion of some parts of the USA. This can be evidenced by the Spanish-sounding names of many cities and towns. They are a large enough portion of this country to deserve representation in the Supreme Court. Only if the person is qualified of course. So, why is the right not finding any real fault with Sotomayor, even though they are screaming bloody murder.
The right had nominated a person named Clarence Thomas, and he was a redneck in a black camouflage. Incidentally, he has been silent for a long time on the bench, and one wonders if he has another opinion left in him, or if Scalia does the talking for him. In contrast, Sotomayor is brown inside and out, and that seems to incense the right more than anything else.
There is another angle to consider here. In almost all civilized countries equipped with a detailed and functional constitution, the judges are a little above review. Phrases like ‘independent judiciary’ are not uncommon in the civics curriculum of most countries. These judges cannot change the law. They are allowed to rule on cases based on their interpretation of the laws. An activist judge is one who, based on what he thinks the law should be, rules over cases by stretching the bounds of the existing law (within his discretion) to accommodate his rationale. Chains of such rulings would slowly bring about a change in the law. In this, the Supreme Court wields awesome power.
As the judges are (in a way) above the law, one wonders if they need to represent the people exactly. For example, one would not insist that the US Olympic swim team be a perfect representation of the population. We just want the most qualified people. It seems like an oversimplified analogy, but upon close examination, it has some weight. So, the argument of the left that we need a Latino person on the bench, or that we simply need more women, needs to be swiftly swatted. Obama was always going to tap a minority candidate for this, or a woman. What he did by this move is to shore up some real liberal populist mileage by going for a minority woman. One hopes that no person more qualified for the crime of being a white male. It was politics, but he is a politician, and he has to play the game. You can’t blame him for that.
However, for all the screams from the right, I don’t see them providing any alternatives. I see no evidence being presented by them of white men who are more qualified but simply passed by. Where is their list of qualified, jilted people who are being the victims of reverse racism?
In the end, the one thing that should be balanced on the Supreme Court is the left-right ratio. With Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Alito, Thomas tilting the bench so emphatically to the right that it now resembles a suspended bar magnet pointing north, it leaves Breyer and Stevens as somewhat moderate, with Ginsburg being the only seemingly liberal one. Sotomayor, one hopes, will help make this bench more horizontal.