The Supreme Court, 7/1/09
Join Active Minds for a program on the Supreme Court in transition. We will take a “behind the curtain” approach to the process of Senate confirmation, highlighting the key players and their motives and also look at the records of both Judge Souter and Sotomayor in order to assess how the court may change. Comparison to historic confirmations will be made in order to better understand the intricacies of the process.
Key Lecture Points:
• President Obama nominated federal Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court on May 26, 2009, citing her "inspiring life story" and "distinguished career" in his decision. This follows the resignation of Justice David H. Souter.
• President Obama has stated that he would like Sotomayor’s confirmation by August 7, 2009. Republicans are arguing that the president is trying to rush the confirmation process. Democrats, meanwhile, point out that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed in 50 days and John Roberts in 70 days. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin confirmation hearings on July 13, 2009.
• If confirmed, Sotomayor will be the first Latino and only the third woman Supreme Court Justice. As such, some feel that the historical nature of the nomination may overshadow Sotomayor’s background and notable decisions in her professional career. On the political level, many Democrats suggest that the Republican Party has been losing ground with Latinos, due in part to immigration policy. As a result, they hope that Republicans criticism of Sotomayor will further erode Republican support from within the growing Latino demographic.
• On the other hand, many Republicans criticize President Obama’s nomination as a case of racially-based politicking. Sotomayor’s comments in the past, including: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life,” play a role in the debate over race and the Sotomayor nomination.
• With the swearing in of Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, Democrats have the 60 votes needed to block a Senate filibuster, and at least five Republican senators were among those who voted in 1998 to confirm Sotomayor for the Appeals court seat she now holds.
• Do you feel that the Supreme Court benefits from ethnic, national, religious and gender balance?
• If you were nominating a person for the Supreme Court, what qualities and qualifications would you look for?
• Do you remember a time when the Supreme Court decided something that affected you? If so, what was it?
• Would you enjoy being a Supreme Court justice? Explain your answer.
More to Explore:
• White House press information on Sotomayor: www.whitehouse.gov
• CNN biography on Sotomayor: www.cnn.com
• Article for The New Republic Arguing Against Sotomayor: www.tnr.com
Books For Further Reading:
• Schwartz, Bernard. A History of the Supreme Court. Oxford University Press USA, 1995. 480 Pages. When the first Supreme Court convened in 1790, it was so ill-esteemed that its justices frequently resigned in favor of other pursuits. John Rutledge stepped down as Associate Justice to become a state judge in South Carolina; John Jay resigned as Chief Justice to run for Governor of New York; and Alexander Hamilton declined to replace Jay, pursuing a private law practice instead. As Bernard Schwartz shows in this landmark history, the Supreme Court has indeed travelled a long and interesting journey to its current preeminent place in American life. Click here to order.
• Toobin, Jeffrey. The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. Anchor Books, 2008. 480 Pages. In "The Nine," acclaimed journalist Jeffrey Toobin takes us into the chambers of the most important--and secret--legal body in our country, the Supreme Court, revealing the complex dynamic among the nine people who decide the law of the land. An institution at a moment of transition, the Court now stands at a crucial point, with major changes in store on such issues as abortion, civil rights, and church-state relations. Click here to order.