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What Sen. Obama said was important in Supreme Court nominees

Then Illinopis Democrat Senator Barack Obama speaking on the Senate Floor

One of the most interesting aspects of any Supreme Court nomination is trying to read into the choice revelations of what the president is thinking, his values and goals.

We've got two revealing videos below that help do that.

With the recent nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the top court -- she began her confirmation campaign courtesy calls on top senators Tuesday -- President Obama began his sales pitch to the nation and Congress by describing her important character as the finest, tried and true. And he described her rise from the public housing projects of the Bronx as an ultimate American success story.

Republicans wisely hailed that too. Who can oppose the evergreen American hero Horatio Alger, even if he's a she?

Although Sotomayor's eventual Senate confirmation is hardly in doubt as of today, the GOP will probably focus its examination and any possible political assault on Sotomayor's allegedly activist judicial views and decisions. In coming weeks they'll be poring over her hundreds of decisions, seeking telltale clues.

But perhaps more importantly for the long term, what does her selection say about the man in the White House, the man who wants this confirmation process to move along quickly?

Here, from the riches of C-SPAN's video archives are two wonderful clips. Both are of then-Sen. Obama on the Senate floor opposing, first, Judge John Roberts' nomination as chief justice and then Judge Samuel Alito as a justice.

They are both revealing videos. They show the freshman senator (with speech text on ... 

... paper, no TelePrompter) expressing admiration for and no reason to doubt the fine character of either man.

But, ultimately, Obama explains on Sept. 22, 2005, a nominee's character alone is insufficient to earn his support because both men, he alleges without detailing the merits of specific cases, too often side with powerful interests over others, with large companies against individuals, with prosecutors over defense attorneys.

He says he's seeking a judge who wants to "even" the playing field and that in a private meeting Roberts agreed. But Obama states that Roberts' words are unconvincing and contradicted by his decisions. "Ultimately," Obama says, "we need give more weight to his deeds than his reassuring words."

Something Sotomayor may hear thrown back at her during this summer's hearings.

Of additional significance is Obama's outrage over Alito's outright dismissal of some ordinary complainants' appeals without a court hearing. Which, of course, is precisely what Obama's nominee, Judge Sotomayor, did to the white firemen's appeals in the increasingly famous New Haven reverse discrimination case. Hmmm.

Now here's Obama talking about his views on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Alito, another Obama nay.

These remarks on the Senate floor on Jan. 29, 2006, are especially interesting because the freshman Illinois Democrat criticizes Alito for too often "siding with the powerful against the powerless." Again, we do not learn the merits or arguments of the unnamed cases Obama cites.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Associated Press

 
Comments () | Archives (3)

The comments to this entry are closed.

At the time, the political Calculus was a bit less rarified than what the GOP Senators face today should they make the unwise decision to fight the nomination of a potential liberal extremist to the high court.

Roberts' judicial activism for any policy opposing the leveling of the playing field on matters of racial inequality is well known, and Obama's opposition, given his race, should hardly surprise anyone. And Scalia...bah, I've no time for anger when the fun is just beginning.

From a meat-and-potatoes, liberal-revenge standpoint, I really hope to see a lineup of white male Senators from the southeastern U.S. blasting Judge Sotomayor on the grounds that she's too liberal.

Oh, what delicious irony is this sudden turnaround! Thank you, George, Dick, John Ashcroft, Gonzalez, Scoooter, Wolfy, and the gang!

Its about time that america wakes up and understands that everyone is prone to racism even white people!
Latino people are gonna look out for Latinos same as any other race thats to be expected but speaking out the way this woman did is unacceptable. Something needs to be done if a White person did this he/she would have been made out to be a clan member and thrown out of office.

Sonia Sotomayor Affirmative Action Judge


Before Sotomayor's confirmation hearings begin, the Supreme Court probably will overturn a ruling she supported on the 2nd Circuit — the propriety of New Haven, Conn., canceling fire department promotions because there were no African-Americans (although there was a Hispanic) among the 18 firemen the selection test made eligible for promotion. A three-judge panel of 2nd Circuit judges, including Sotomayor, affirmed a district court's dismissal of the firemen's complaint, doing so in a perfunctory and unpublished order that acknowledged none of the large constitutional questions involved.
Stuart Taylor of the National Journal calls this "a process so peculiar as to fan suspicions that some or all of the judges were embarrassed by the ugliness of the actions that they were blessing and were trying to sweep the case quietly under the rug, perhaps to avoid Supreme Court review or public criticism, or both." Taylor says that when "the circuit's more conservative judges got wind of the case," they sought to have it reheard by the full 2nd Circuit. They failed but successfully argued that the Supreme Court should take the case.

Taylor has also noted this from a Sotomayor speech to a Hispanic group: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion (as a judge) than a white male who hasn't lived that life." Says Taylor, "Imagine the reaction if someone had unearthed in 2005 a speech in which then-Judge Samuel Alito had asserted, for example: 'I would hope that a white male with the richness of his traditional American values would reach a better conclusion than a Latina woman who hasn't lived that life' — and had proceeded to speak of 'inherent physiological or cultural differences.'"

Such a perspective on race based decision making is not the sort of Change we had hoped would come from candidate Obama.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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