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May 26th, 2009
11:59 PM ET

One of Obama’s finest hours

David Gergen | Bio
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Political Analyst

To watch the first African-American President from a broken family promote to the U.S. Supreme Court an Hispanic woman from a broken neighborhood was one of those moments that Americans will long savor. In his announcement today of his first nominee to the Court, President Obama quickly brought back memories of why the country elected him.

I was in the White House in 1981 when President Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman to join the Court, and I can remember greeting her in Chief of Staff Jim Baker’s office just before the announcement. It was Reagan’s first nomination, too – a highly symbolic occasion – and enormous pride flowed through every one of us present that day.

President Obama’s announcement stirred those same, overwhelming feelings. It is said that a president campaigns in poetry and governs in prose. Today was almost all poetry. It is likely to be remembered as one of the President’s finest hours.

From the start, it was obvious that at least on paper, Sonia Sotomayor possessed the best resume of all the candidates Obama was considering – her story of lifting herself by her bootstraps (with great help from her mom), her education at top universities, her years as a prosecutor and commercial attorney, her elevation to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush on a recommendation from the revered Democrat Sen. Patrick Moynihan, her elevation to the Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton, her long record of liberal-leaning but often pragmatic decisions. All that - and the fact that the Court has never had an Hispanic Justice and has had only two women - sang out for this nomination.

What remained to be seen was whether she would survive a thorough vetting and whether she would have the personal chemistry with the President. Clearly, the President decided that she passed both tests. Importantly, her name was also floated early enough that the press has already done its first vetting, too, and while it found some items worthy of debate, nothing we have seen so far would seem big enough to derail her confirmation.

Indeed, unless something new is discovered, it is hard to imagine that Republican Senators will stage a fierce fight against her. After all, the Senate first confirmed her to the federal bench by unanimous consent and then to the Court of Appeals by 67-29 (with 25 Republicans, including judicial heavyweight Orrin Hatch, in her favor). Conservative activists have come out sharply against her, and they sometimes “persuade” Republican Senators to follow their lead, but in this case, it seems unlikely.

Republican party-builders in the Senate know too well how heavy a price the GOP paid when it put a stick in the eye of Hispanics in California in 1994 over Proposition 187 on the state ballot. The party still hasn’t recovered there.

For Republicans to gang up on the first Hispanic nominee to the Court – one whose credentials are so strong – would invite an electoral disaster on the national level that would equal that in California. After all, Hispanics are rapidly becoming the biggest minority group in the country and hold a key to our political future. President George W. Bush, understanding that, worked hard to pull Hispanics into the GOP column in both of his presidential elections, but the battle over immigration was a clear setback to that effort.

Candidate Obama seized upon the moment, making a huge and successful effort to increase the Hispanic turnout and to bring them to his side. He not only succeeded in winning 67% of the Hispanic vote last year, but the outpouring of Hispanics was a primary factor in flipping 4 states from red to blue – Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Florida. If Obama can keep the Hispanics in his corner, he will have formidable advantages in 2012 for re-election and of equal importance, can begin to solidify a new Democratic majority.

Do Republicans Senators really want to run the risk of bringing down Ms. Sotomayor and possibly becoming a minority party for a generation? I doubt it. It seems far more likely that Republicans will grumble a lot, some of them will vote for her, and they will save their fire for the next nominee.

In the meantime, President Obama can bask – for at least a while – in the glow of an American Dream rekindled.

soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. CEL

    A great day for ALL Americans. Even for those of us WHITE Americans who will soon be in the minority. Maybe everyone will be treated fairly now and not just White Anglo Saxon Protestants.

    May 26, 2009 at 10:35 pm |
  2. Anne lombard

    My beautiful and talented daughters and equally beautiful talented grandaughters are thrilled, happy and estatic, Thank you Mr. President

    May 26, 2009 at 10:34 pm |
  3. TV

    Every President selects a Supreme Court nominee with consideration toward the nominee's political leanings, Republican or Democratic president alike. Sotomayor's credentials are unquestionable. I wholeheartedly embrace and look forward to the the broadening of perspective that she will bring to the court. It definitely reflects the demographic and political trend of the country. Homerun Obama! (PS, TIME magazine's story on Michelle Obama was excellent!)

    May 26, 2009 at 10:33 pm |
  4. CAROL

    Dear Sick of Dirty Obama:

    America was founded on the quota system and it was: 100% white male. Now that we want to make the quota system reflect the real demographics of our country, the white males are grousing. Get over it!

    May 26, 2009 at 10:31 pm |
  5. galleria

    We shouldn't focus so much on her ethnicity, nor Obama's. It should not matter..and I'm a black woman. Lets stick to qualifications. Growing up in the Bronx and eventually breaking out into the Ivy Leagues is commendable, but it does not make one qualified for the SC. I love you Gergen, but please focus first and most importantly on her qualifications otherwise as someone else put in on this post, she is just but a quota. I'm a liberal, I love Obama but lets get grounded and avoid being swept by mass hysteria.

    May 26, 2009 at 10:17 pm |
  6. Lampe

    Politics has changed as we know it. It is now who is owed, or who is entitled to win. It no longer is about who is best to lead.

    May 26, 2009 at 10:15 pm |
  7. MS

    Critics .. please! This woman is highly qualified and could easily win this appointment even is she was a white male!!!!!! There have been many white males less qualified than her appointed to the court. She just brings the greatly needed added advantage of a diverse perspective.

    May 26, 2009 at 10:09 pm |
  8. Allison

    Watching the President make his announcement gave me chills. I agree with Mr. Gerger. This was one of the President's finest hours. It made me feel the American dream.

    May 26, 2009 at 10:05 pm |
  9. Jake

    So all you people who are so proud to be Americans "again", is it only when a democrat is in office that you are proud to be an American? Was John Roberts a bad choice – why because he leans conservative. Obama has become the most divisive president in our history. His campaign promised to end partisan bickering yet everyone of his decisions and choices have been far left and alienated half the country.

    May 26, 2009 at 10:05 pm |
  10. Pat

    I have read the threads. Pathetic! To judge this women on her childhood and ethnic background is so naive and just what Obama wants. Obama is NOT to select a justice based on some populist reaction (which is what he did), but rather on the most qualified person to objectively interpret the U.S. Constitution as it applies to our laws or cases before the court (which he did not).

    Once again, the "common man" is fleeced into thinking Obama is on their side. Is he? Are you sure?

    May 26, 2009 at 10:05 pm |
  11. Wanda

    What are we coming to in our nation? How did it get to be that only people from broken homes or minorities are the only people qualified to lead our country?

    May 26, 2009 at 9:56 pm |
  12. Joyce in Florida

    I am both pleased and proud of our President's choice.

    May 26, 2009 at 9:54 pm |
  13. Larry Ansley

    This is right on so many levels. Another proud day for America.

    May 26, 2009 at 9:53 pm |
  14. Yvonne

    @Todd Gurvis,

    Portuguese are considered to be of Latin heritage but are not included as Hispanic.

    May 26, 2009 at 9:52 pm |
  15. Rick

    After 8 long years, it's still hard to believe America has elected a SMART man to run the country. It don't matter if he's white, black or polka dot

    May 26, 2009 at 9:49 pm |
  16. dick thrun

    It is with awe that such a person is available to serve on our highest bench! I applaud her and the President for selecting her! I am believing in our system again! God bless AmericaQ!!!!!!

    May 26, 2009 at 9:47 pm |
  17. rashid

    great choice , makes me a proud american. this moment i feel like this country is run by the people of this great nation. god bless obama and judge sotomayor

    May 26, 2009 at 9:45 pm |
  18. Chris

    I find this whole idea of questioning the nomination of a Supreme Court judge ridiculous. Let's make something clear, every Supreme Court nominee, Republican or Democrat, has a strong resume. The integrity of these nominees must be questioned, but there isn't a lying, cheating, vote-whoring politician in this country worthy to clean their robes. Let's not even start talking about journalists or, even worse, BLOGGERS!

    I'm sure the President has made a wise choice, just as I was sure Bush did, too. This DISTINGUISHED woman will be smeared as dumb, too political, wishy-washy, biased, and every other thing over the next couple of weeks. Let the politicians play their smear garbage and everyone else keep out of it.

    May 26, 2009 at 9:44 pm |
  19. Sick of Dirty Obama

    sodomayor = quota

    May 26, 2009 at 9:41 pm |
  20. Howard

    Bravo !!!!!

    May 26, 2009 at 9:36 pm |
  21. Jay G

    I wish we could focus more on qualifications than appeasing political voting blocs. This is the Supreme Court, after all.

    I'm fine with lauding the decision because she is the best candidate (assuming that she is) as opposed to us being required to be "thrilled" that a black man nominated a hispanic woman to be on the Supreme Court.

    Talk about misplaced priorities.

    May 26, 2009 at 9:36 pm |
  22. Gordon Hardy

    Agree with David's fine analysis but please correct: Obama flipped Nevada, not Nebraska.

    May 26, 2009 at 9:36 pm |
  23. Be He

    Not just HIspanicsand/or women but many of those who do not fit in those groups are proud too.

    May 26, 2009 at 8:48 pm |
  24. rkolinski

    I am very happy with Obama's nomination for the Supreme Court! In fact, he has "GENERALLY" made me much prouder to be an American than any president in a very long time. And I'm a retired Vietnam veteran and he, in point of fact, makes me feel safer than most of the Republicans who have been in control of this country (who haven't even served their country in the military). I think he is steadily restoring respect for this country throughout the world and this, in my humble opinion, will always make us safer!

    May 26, 2009 at 8:41 pm |
  25. Paul

    I think that the Supreme Court holds more power and lasting affects than even that of the president; having said that, the nomination of Sotomayor for the Supreme Court is a great selection. Our country is extremely culturally diverse and to simply have a single ethnicity represent us in the Supreme Court is unrealistic and socially incorrect. Our country is cutlery diverse and so should the Supreme Court so that it may keep a realistic perspective on our society.

    May 26, 2009 at 8:01 pm |
  26. Beryl

    This is a wonderful day for the USA. Judge Sotomayor embodies the "American Dream". I hope that ordinary citizens (excluding the pundits and politicians) will put aside their party preferences and savor this moment.

    Congress must vet her - that is the process - but no one should minimize her accomplishments and qualifications. Doing so only demonstrates bias.

    May 26, 2009 at 7:46 pm |
  27. KIM LEE, AUSTIN TEXAS

    I am again delighted with our PRESIDENT and his selection. This selection was a perfect choice for equal rights and secures hispanics with democrats for decades! Republicans are the looser again!

    May 26, 2009 at 7:26 pm |
  28. p of v

    Sotomayor is the most qualified nominee in more than half a century, let's not forget that. She deserves this position by merit. The rest is just gravy.

    May 26, 2009 at 7:26 pm |
  29. Todd Gurvis

    Well-spoken, Mr. Gergen.

    One small correction, since it's been bugging me all day to hear it repeated over and over again.... While Sonia Sotomayor will indeed be the first Latina on the court, she will not in fact be the first Hispanic Justice. That honor belongs to Benjamin Cardozo, who was a Portuguese-Jewish American. Most pundits and reporters seem to overlook this fact, choosing to consider Cardozo to have been Jewish but not Hispanic.

    But still, it was indeed one of Obama's finest moments to date, and I am excited by the potential elevation to the land's highest court of such a brilliant jursit (not to mention excellent role model).

    May 26, 2009 at 7:07 pm |
  30. Marjorie Stevens

    Wonderful choice! I just read some of her background and am awed.

    May 26, 2009 at 7:00 pm |
  31. Clark

    what I want in a judge is an individual that decides for or against based on established law ....

    if a woman, or a hispanic, or a man, or an asian "interprets" the law based on the perspective of their background .... then they are not basing their decision on established law but on their own biases and that is not justice.

    so quit trying to fill quotas ... and start picking justices that know the law and will not try to create law .... they weren't elected to the legislature they are appointed to the courts.

    May 26, 2009 at 7:00 pm |
  32. Cassie Lynn

    Very well written, and truly a remarkable moment for President Obama and our country.

    May 26, 2009 at 6:57 pm |
  33. Annie Kate

    Obama with this nomination has endeared himself to two large voting blocs – the Hispanics and women. I was hoping he would nominate a woman since Sandra Day O'Connor retired there has just been Ruthe Ginsberg on the court to represent us women. The nominated justice brings a lot to the table – I hope her confirmation is swift and positive.

    May 26, 2009 at 6:46 pm |