Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Republicans, Sotomayor, ethnic voters and the long reach of political memory

Just minutes after President Barack Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be the first Latina justice and the third woman on the Supreme Court, the Republican right was assembling the bandwagon with ideological vitriol against her.

Republicans to be mindful of how their rhetoric and conduct will resonate for many Latino voters. Diversity rings differently for different voters. For many voters in the white majority it sounds like quotas, of lowered expectations. But for many voters in groups that have been long excluded, it means that they (the excluded group) are no longer excluded, that America is including them, that the American government is finally representing them, that the American government is no longer a white government, but a government for the range of various communities that compose the country.
Simon Rosenberg, of the New Democrat Network:
"The movement of our nation from a majority white to a more racially complex society is perhaps the single greatest societal change taking place in our great nation today,'' he suggests.
"And if the Supreme Court is to have the societal legitimacy required to do its work, its justices must reflect and speak to the people of America of the 21st Century,'' he says.

And here, politicians and pundits are on board with sharing the belief that Republicans will have to tread very carefully in how they treat Sotomayor: Sam Youngman, "Senate GOP risks alienating Hispanics over court pick," May 26, 2009 from "The Hill":
Democratic strategist Guillermo Meneses said Republicans will stay in the minority for years to come if they try to bruise Sotomayor.

“If Republicans unleash the attack dogs on Sotomayor, they will be looking at becoming a regional, minority party for the next couple of decades,” Meneses said. “They really have written the playbook on how to antagonize Latinos, the fastest-growing political power in our nation.”

Former Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla (Texas), an ally of President George W. Bush's, told The Hill on Tuesday that Senate Republicans will have to be mindful of how they treat Sotomayor.
“That is the political reality,” Bonilla said. “In an ideal world, you would decide on a Supreme Court justice based on their qualifications. But in the real world, this is something Senate Republicans are going to have to deal with, and that's her ethnicity.”

So, we will have conservative Republicans blathering on about "dubious qualifications," "unqualified," "token." They will speak to the choir with their scathing rejection of her fitness for the high court. And how will many (yes, not all) Latinos will hear racism (or at least suspect racism) in the Republicans' opposition to her.
(Already, reports that Rush Limbaugh has said that he wishes Sotomayor fails, and Mike Huckabee called her "Maria.")
Many activists in the Party of No believe that the best route is to cast the center aside and go with the faithful core. Yet as they play to the Fox News crowd, they need to consider how their tone and words resonate for viewers of the Univision, Telemundo and Telefutura television networks.
True, there are plenty of conservative Latino voters that will stick with the Grand Obstructionist Party, on issues such as personal libertarianism or conservative social values. But more broadly, we can envision the Republicans losing hefty enough numbers of Hispanic voters in marginal states, such as Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and maybe even Colorado. The buzzword in the context of this appointment is "Hispanic legitimacy." The Republicans of the Party of No will giver further reason for voters to see them as intolerant, if not old fashioned and exclusionary.
A recent poll said that 68 percent of voters did not see it remarkable that a Latina judge was selected.(Mark Silva at Chicago Tribune's "Swamp Politics, May 26, 2009.) While that might be true, the Republicans did poorly, broadly, in so many regions. The Republicans need to worry about the partisan fence sitters in that remaining 32 percent.
Here's another interesting nugget: the Republicans will scream about how a) she is too political in her rulings or b) dubiously qualified. But they have to remember that not only did Bill Clinton appoint her to federal court positions, but Bush I (George H.W. Bush) gave her an earlier boost in 1992 to the federal judiciary. If she is so disreputable, key Republicans with judiciary assignments will have to explain why they supported --with their votes Clinton's 1998 promotion of Sotomayor. Also from Youngman's piece in "The Hill":
When former President Bill Clinton nominated Sotomayor to the U.S. Circuit Court, 25 Republican senators voted to confirm her. Seven of those 25 — Sens. Bob Bennett (Utah), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Richard Lugar (Ind.) and Judd Gregg (N.H.) — still serve in the upper chamber. An eighth, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), was a Republican at the time but switched to the Democratic Party earlier this year.

These Republicans will have to explain their sudden "realization" that Sotomayor is extreme or unqualified.

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