8 a.m. ET: How much did President Obama take Sonia Sotomayor's background into account before deciding to nominate her to the Supreme Court? In an interview with the Washington Post's Lois Romano for the "Voices of Power" series, Valerie Jarrett made clear that Sotomayor's biography was a big part of what made her "absolutely the perfect choice" for the slot.
After outlining Sotomayor's professional record, Jarrett laid out the narrative that the judge and her supporters will present during her confirmation hearings. "So you put it all together," Jarrett said, "and then you add to this, this extraordinary American story of growing up so poor in South Bronx and having her father who died at such a young age and seeing her mother work two jobs to help both she and her ... brother go to school, and her brother is now this successful physician, and it really, it’s the American dream."
An emphasis on Sotomayor's background leads inevitably to a debate about "empathy" and about her best-known perceived gaffe, her reference to "a wise Latina" reaching "a better conclusion" on the bench than a white male. While the White House has already acknowledged Sotomayor's poor choice of words, Jarrett defended the comment.
"Well, I think what she meant was ... that her unique experience is having grown up so poor in this family from the South Bronx presents a diversity of opinion," Jarrett said. "And so, you know, on the Supreme Court, it’s not one judge how makes an opinion. It’s nine judges, and so I think what she was saying was when you take her experience and you couple it with the many white men that are on the court and you also have another woman, you put it all together, you get this incredible breadth of perspective."
Jarrett also expressed confidence that Sotomayor's bid was in good shape "if that’s the best that they can come up with compared to 17 years on the bench and this incredible track record."
If Sotomayor's supporters really want to capture a glowing testimonial about her, they might consider splicing together an ad from Jeff Sessions' appearance on Meet the Press yesterday. The top Judiciary Committee Republican said he was concerned about Sotomayor's past comments, but also said: "She's smart. ... She's capable. ... Oh, she's got the kind of background you would look for, almost an ideal mix of private practice, prosecution, trial judge and circuit judge. That's very strong in her favor."
Much of the weekend coverage of Sotomayor focused on her role in Ricci v. DeStefano, otherwise known as the New Haven firefighters case. The Washington Post wrote Sunday that "White House strategists face a tough challenge in the sound-bite war" over Sotomayor's ruling in the case, particularly if her decision is overturned by the Supreme Court. The Los Angeles Times today calls the case "one of the most important of the Supreme Court term because it could affect public agencies across the nation."
The murder of George Tiller in Kansas may serve to bring the abortion debate to the forefront this week, and with it perhaps yet another look at Sotomayor's views on the issue. Last week, abortion rights supporters briefly expressed concern about her thin record of jurisprudence on the topic, before receiving some subtle reassurance from the White House that she was on their side. But the jury is still out on the topic. Tom Goldstein writes on SCOTUSblog concludes that "the marginally related cases she has decided do not provide any genuine insight on how she would rule on questions related to a constitutional right to abortion, but they do show a level of balance that indicates that her decisionmaking is not driven by pro-choice or pro-life views."
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