Monday, July 13, 2009

Sotomayor's confirmation

Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to be the next Supreme Court justice started today. TPM has her opening statement. The NY Times has detailed coverage, particularly on their Times Topic page on her. I want to take a moment here and give some serious props to the NYT for their Times Topic idea. They collect lots of relevant information and articles about a topic in one place. That's just fantastic. This is what the Web should be for. This is what innovation on a newspaper Website looks like.

OK, back to Sotomayor. There is no question that she will be confirmed. Republicans are trying to paint her as biased in favor of minorities. Good luck on that one. White guys in suits - on camera - complaining about unfair treatment for other white guys is just pathetic.

For me, what's important to note about this is that it's one of the first moments when Obama can make a clear difference. He's already done that in several areas, but this is one time when he can nail a decisive victory. It's a slam dunk. More than that, it will also be an occasion to party. It will be an occasion to fire up the troops. There are, of course, some liberals and progressives who are disillusioned with Obama for various reasons. This is utterly normal. But moments like this are opportunities for Obama to remind those whose dreams have faded a little what is at stake here. A Hispanic woman, from a poor Puerto Rican background, is about to become a Supreme Court justice.

What's most important about this is not the fact that a Hispanic woman is about to become a Supreme Court justice, but that this particular earned this, and deserves it. In her statement, she said
The progression of my life has been uniquely American.
When I was a freshman in high school, one of the first assignments in my English class was to write about the American Dream. This would be a great example. Sonia Sotomayor, by living the American Dream, by personifying an idea that absolutely refuses to become a cliche, is doing two things at once. She is living that dream for herself. But she is also doing something that is itself quintessentially American: she is expanding the definition of the American Dream to include people like her. She is staking a claim to that dream, and there ain't a damn thing the most obnoxious Republican out there can do about it. Fortunately for all of us, there are lots of Republicans who are applauding this dream come true.

And now back to Obama again. Obama himself has done very little work to bring this moment to fruition. All of his staffers did the work to select her. He hasn't had to campaign much for her - her nomination is a foregone conclusion. He won't do anything once she is sitting on the bench. But he is the reason this is happening.

As momentous as this occasion is, however, it's also important to notice that this moment itself doesn't change anything. Sotomayor is not on the Supreme Court yet, and even after her confirmation, she won't be there for a couple of months. And then she won't issue any opinions for months after that. Then those opinions won't necessarily take effect immediately. Those effects will then take a while to manifest themselves.

But the effects of her presence on the Supreme Court will, in all probability, last for decades, and effect millions. Obama has done a lot of things since becoming president that have not had much effect yet; we are still fighting two wars, debates are still raging about torture, we don't know how well the stimulus package will end up working, GM and Chrysler haven't started making money yet.

But a Hispanic woman is about to become a Supreme Court justice for three reasons: 1, because she is qualified. 2, because this is America, and this can happen here. And 3, because Barack Obama nominated her.

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