8 a.m. ET: Is Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation to the Supreme Court a foregone conclusion? Consider:
• She is a known quantity. Sotomayor has been seen as a potential court pick for months, giving friends and foes alike ample time to pore over her record. The proliferation of blogs and the wealth of information available online, including all of her legal opinions, mean that on some level Sotomayor has already been vetted (though her body of work includes "no major decisions concerning abortion, the death penalty, gay rights or national security.") Critics have seized on a few of her past remarks, but if there is a true smoking gun anywhere in her professional record, it hasn't been found. Her personal life is a different story, but we can only assume that Team Obama knows for sure that she has paid all her taxes. Can't we?
• The fact that Sotomayor -- or, as Mike Huckabee called her, "Maria" -- is Latina presents the GOP with a special set of problems. Republicans can certainly criticize her record and judicial philosophy, but may be hesitant to adopt the kind of scorched-Earth tactics that have been deployed in some past Supreme Court fights. Doing so could represent a "suicide mission" for the party.
• Mathematically, Democrats have a near-stranglehold on the Senate. With 59 seats -- 60 if and when Al Franken is seated -- the majority barely needs to reach across the aisle in order to accrue the support necessary to put Sotomayor on the court. Centrist Democrats have so far given no indication that they would oppose her nomination, and some key Republicans, particularly Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, are already sounding positive notes about Sotomayor.
With Sotomayor's confirmation very likely, The Fix suggests that the real aim for the GOP will be to use the pick as a way to paint Obama as a liberal partisan. Will that tactic work? Sotomayor is being described this morning as the most controversial of Obama's four finalists for the seat, and yet in the broader scheme of things she probably isn't the boldest or most liberal choice Obama could have made. Stephen Carter calls her "a thoughtful moderate, with liberal leanings, to be sure, but hardly a firebrand on a mission."
So, barring a bombshell, Sotomayor looks to be on a glide path to the highest court. What, then, is the value for either side to elevate this into a more dramatic fight than it really is? Think of this as a dress rehearsal. What if the next justice to leave is a conservative, and Obama actually has the fundamental chance to alter the court's ideological makeup? Or what if Obama's next nominee really is a "firebrand on a mission"? It's useful, for both the Right and Left, to stretch their muscles and learn how this Senate and this president handle a Supreme Court nomination. Because the next battle might be a real one.
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