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What Sen. Obama said was important in Supreme Court nominees

June 3, 2009 |  4:22 am

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

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