7/30/09 Update: Now we know how she voted – Hutchison Breaks Promise, Opposes Sotomayor
First off, congratulations to Judge Sonia Sotomayor, nominated by President Barack Obama to the Supreme Court of the United States. When confirmed, Justice Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic justice, and only the third woman to serve on our nation's highest court.
Thus, I turn with interest to our senior senator, our female senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, to see how she will vote on Sotomayor's historic nomination, especially as KBH is likely facing an election in Texas of her own in the next year or so.
While John Cornyn, our junior senator and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, offered early praise of the historic nomination, mixed with caution that any nominee would be closely scrutinized, Hutchison immediately went on the attack.
In an AP story spread far and wide across Texas, Hutchison expressed early doubts about Sotomayor:
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison finds “troubling” statements she says Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has made in the past 11 years that federal judges are able to “change policy.”
KBH is referring to a comment Sotomayor made in the past about how appeals courts are where judges apply the law. This is hardly an ideological or political statement. As MediaMatters quickly pointed out:
…numerous legal experts have stated that Sotomayor's comment was, in the words of Hofstra University law professor Eric Freedman, “the absolute judicial equivalent of saying the sun rises each morning” and “thoroughly uncontroversial to anyone other than a determined demagogue.”
A determined demagogue, you say? Hutchison, you may recall, voted against Sotomayor when she was nominated to the 2nd Circuit in 1998. She was one of 29 Senators, all Republican, to oppose the nomination. So it would not be shocking for her to vote against her now.
Hutchison said her vote against Sotomayor in 1998 was about Sotomayor's “judicial activism” as a district court judge.
“Judicial activism” is a Republican buzzword for “not overturning Constitutional statutes that tend to treat all human beings equally.” It also tends to mean “siding against corporate greed, racism, and sexism; finding for the individual citizen rather than conservative hegemony.” Sometimes “judicial activism” also means “allowing a woman to make her own medical decisions.” (Furthermore, DailyKos points out that it is far-right justices that are vastly more likely to overturn Constitutional statutes. Sounds more activisty to me. But anyways.)
“I will listen to the full content of her record, but I will not vote for anyone that I believe has a record in the last 11 years of judicial activism,” Hutchison said.
So, KBH has a quandary, in voting on a judicial nominee who is highly, highly likely to be approved. As widely noted, Sotomayor is as highly qualified as any nominee has been for the bench in decades. Her education is impeccable, her experience unmatched. She has not shown a record that can be considered overly political or ideological. Opposition can thus only be mustered on partisan lines against the nominating President, or because of naked identity politics.
And she's not just voting as any rank-and-file Republican, she's voting as one about to square off in a primary battle against Rick Perry, a candidate who has shown next-to-zero restraint in pandering to the far-right fringe. With these early statements, is KBH trying to pander to the right-wing voters she'll need in her primary? Is she going to vote against Sotomayor, and make sure that Perry can't accuse her of supporting “liberal judicial activists?”
What if Hutchison wants to woo women and Latinos over to the Republican primary (especially if we lack a suitable Democratic contest) to make sure we don't suffer 4 more years of Rick Perry? A vote against Sotomayor can call that strategy into question for sure.
And what if she does vote against Sotomayor? If Hutchison makes it through her primary unscathed, would that vote alienate many of the women and Hispanic voters she would want to court in the general election?
So, I guess for KBH the question is this: does she vote like a hard-line conservative ideologue against Sotomayor and hope it brings enough votes in the short-term and doesn't alienate others long-term? Or does she vote to confirm the most qualified, meritorious Supreme Court nominee we've seen in nearly a decade?