During the Sotomayor confirmation hearing many Democrats and members of the media accused Republicans of choosing not to nominate Sotomayor because of her background and Latina heritage. It was argued that Republicans on the Senate committee did not have an appreciation for Judge Sotomayor’s life stories and failed to admit that she was a well-qualified candidate.
However, this belief is very far from the truth—well at least what I perceived while watching the hearings. There was not a Republican I saw who did not commend the judge for her powerful life story, her ability to overcome obstacles that spoke the American dream into reality and her accomplishments as a judge before going on to confess she would not receive his or her vote. Senator John McCain of Arizona, last year’s Republican presidential nominee, described her as an “immensely qualified candidate” with an “inspiring and compelling” life story despite not voting for her. Yet, how is it possible that Sotomayor, who many admitted was well-qualified, failed to gain the support of the Republican Party?
The reason that Sotomayor did not have the support of most Republicans has nothing to do with the judge herself in my opinion. As stated before Republicans admitted she was well-qualified. In his statement at the confirmation hearing Senator McCain reminded those who argue that there was a problem with the judge’s heritage that in 2003 President Bush nominated Miguel Estrada, who is also of Hispanic descent to federal appeals court which could have led to his eventual appointment to the Supreme Court.
Instead an explanation more likely than lack of experience, heritage, or second amendment beliefs emerges: that reason is party lines. Despite the ideal that Supreme Court justices should be appointed according to their experience and capabilities, recently candidates have been shunned by either party because of their political affiliations. In his opening statement to Sotomayer in the confirmation hearing Senator Lindsey Graham admitted that Sotomayor was not the candidate his party would have appointed but his respect for her qualifications and the historic importance of her confirmation made him vote across party lines in much the same way Democrats who confirmed Justice Roberts had done.
If Supreme Court nominations still went according to choosing nominees that the President felt were qualified Sotomayor would have had a nearly unanimous confirmation, but unless politicians such as Lindsey Graham and others make a stance to voting outside of theirparties we might face the risk of almost losing exceptional candidates to party lines that defy democracy and qualifications.