As if to underline the story of Republican disarray, President Obama moved today to nominate Sonia Sotomayor as the next Supreme Court Justice. Sotomayor would be the third woman and the first American of Puerto Rican descent to serve on the Court, if confirmed.
Of course, "if confirmed" is all about niceties, just now. It seems hard to imagine her not being confirmed (though the Obama team and "successful vetting" still seem like a work in progress), and most of all, it feels all but impossible for Republicans to muster the public support needed to paint Sotomyor as so hopelessly ideologically unsuited as to negate her confirmation. Which is why, so far, the objections to her are a lot of noise, and little more.
Many conservatives pointed to her role in the pending Supreme Court case (Ricci v. DeStefano) over an exam for firefighter promotions in New Haven, which resulted in no promotions after no black candidates passed the test. The case - which has been summarily dismissed at each level so far - still seems less than meets the eye; even if promotions were warranted, the absence of promoting anyone is not, by itself, evidence of discrimination against white people. Even so, a decision that sent the case to trial (it's hard to see how even the current conservatives on the Court could insist on a verdict for the promotions when no evidence has been presented in a court), would hardly disqualify Sotomayor.
Much of the political calculation is so obvious it hardly needs restating: attacking Sotomayor will look like an attack on Hispanics generally which Republicans can't afford, and probably can't win. After 8 years (and two confirmations at least in the Bush years, for Roberts and Alito) arguing that ideology alone shouldn't derail a nominee, Republicans have few arguments to offer against Sotomayor's qualifications, or even temperament.
Moreover, the most probably dubious issues - that Sotomayor included, we will gave a Supreme Court made up entirely of former members of the Court of Appeals; or that she will be the fifth sixth Catholic in recent picks - are not ones that either right or left can raise and use to much avail, though both indicate a sort of ideological narrowing that's probably not good. I'm not wild about Sotomayor - even just among women on the left I think a number of women seem like more interesting legal thinkers - but for what she will bring (the "life experience" argument that probably does matter, a lot), surely, we could do worse.
Sotomayor's selection and confirmation process probably guarantees a summer of a lot of political heat, and probably not much substantive advancement of ideas; and liberals who get sucked into familiar right/left arguments on abortion and such will bear some responsibility, too (I think it goes almost without saying that we're not about to get uplifting discourse from the right). The debates will be especially pointless, given that, barring an especially surprising "scandal", Sotomayor's trajectory to a seat on the Supreme Court seems pretty much assured. As liberals, we should probably just be glad for that... and the opening of a new door.