WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Even if Senate Republicans lay down their arms, Sonia Sotomayor can expect her past to be closely inspected while she waits to find out if she'll become the next U.S. Supreme Court justice.
The accessibility of information in the Internet age will combine with a climate of high political controversy, Princeton University provost Chris Eisgruber said Tuesday after President Barack Obama announced the nomination.
Eisgruber, author of "The Next Justice: Repairing the Supreme Court Appointments Process," also called the nomination "historic," "a strong choice" and "certainly not a surprising one."
"People will be looking very closely at her judicial record," Eisgruber said of Sotomayor, currently a judge on the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
"I think one of the things about the confirmation process is how intense the scrutiny is. (It) has certainly become more intense recently. Since about 1968, we've seen much more contested confirmation hearings than in the 70 or so years prior to that."
Nineteenth-century appointments were also highly contested, but the amount of information that can be viewed by not just the senators who have Sotomayor's fate in their hands, but by professional groups looking for a spin, will put Sotomayor's past in the spotlight, Eisgruber said.
While Republican senators weigh the risk of isolating Hispanic voters by opposing the nomination, other groups won't be so hesitant to speak out.
Jim Copland, the director of the Manhattan Institute Center for Legal Policy, has already called Sotomayor's nomination "a disappointment for those who would prefer that Supreme Court justices show respect for the rule of law," citing decisions made by Sotomayor in copyright, tax and securities laws.
But Sotomayor's experience -- as well as her life story -- should serve her well through the process. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo mentioned her rise from the Bronx as the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants in a statement applauding the nomination.
She would also be the first Hispanic and third female justice.
"People will obviously be poring over every detail of the opinions she's written, poring over every detail of her biography," Eisgruber said.
"Expect to see lots of scrutiny there, but unless there's some surprise discovered or something we don't know about I think she will be confirmed.
"It will be hard for Republicans to oppose someone nominated to the (federal) court by the first President Bush. She's someone with experience and has twice been confirmed by the Senate. I think you'll see lots of posturing, but don't think we'll see it lead to a knock-down, drag-out."
Democrats have 59 votes in the Senate (and 60 if Minnesota's Al Franken is certified in time), and a 12-7 edge in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
But that won't stop the blogosphere. Sotomayor's comments at a lecture at the University of California have already made the rounds.
"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," she said.
Also being publicized is a video where Sotomayor says the Court of Appeals is where policy is made, then notes that she's on tape and shouldn't say that. The clip can be viewed on YouTube.
"If you look at that in context, what you see is a judge distinguishing between district courts and appellate courts in making policy," Eisgruber said.
"It's hard to believe anyone will make much hay out of that, but people will still be looking very closely at her judicial record."
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at email@example.com.
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