David Gergen | Bio
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.
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