The pick of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court will be analyzed to death over the next several days. Her legal opinions will be picked over at great length by the qualified and unqualified, in ways useful and cringeworthy. Her public utterances will be parsed with the concentration worthy of Biblical scholars and then will be transformed into whatever spin the examiner wants.
There’s no need to add preemptively to that hashing, but I wanted to make one point in the discussion. Sotomayor’s pick is–on a political level–an act of genius and will position the Democrats to do well in 2010 and Obama to win reelection in 2012. Why? That the Judge is Hispanic places her nomination and confirmation in one of the great shifting fault lines in current American politics. Karl Rove made a concerted effort to woo the Hispanic vote in 2004 and was met with relative success. Where Al Gore had won 65% of the Hispanic vote in 2000, John Kerry won only 55%. The Hispanic vote in Florida, which voted 56% for Bush, helped him carry that state. That was largely undone in 2005-2006 when the GOP collectively went Minuteman Project on the subject of illegal immigration. That pushed large numbers of Hispanics back into the Democratic camp in 2006 and 2008. Obama won the Hispanic vote by 67-31% over McCain, a surprising total given McCain’s friendliness to immigration reform and his roots in the southwest.
Sotomayor’s pick should help solidify that shift, for two distinct reasons. First is the pick itself, which should raise Obama’s standing among Hispanics even further. But the second is the likely Republican reaction. The GOP is going to go after Sotomayor hard during the confirmation. They can’t not. It’s in their DNA, it’s too attractive a way further to rile up the base, and Supreme Court picks have simply become highly-partisan and politicized moments. And they’re going to do it in all the ham-fisted and seemingly racist ways at which the modern GOP excels. This is a red meat moment for the insane wing of the Republican Party and they are certainly not going to avoid chowing down. The fight will consume most of the summer, and its legacy will last at least to election 2010 and likely to November 2012. Sotomayor’s legacy, if she is confirmed, is thus likely to be both judicial and political.