Sotomayor nomination gives GOP an opportunity to rise above the fray

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President Barack Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court, appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor, is eminently well qualified for the job – as, indeed, were John Roberts and Samuel Alito, chosen to serve on the court by former President George W. Bush during 2005.

Sotomayor, 53, and Roberts, 54, are in some ways remarkably similar.

Roberts graduated summa cum laude from Harvard and was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton and was an editor of the Yale Law Journal. Since graduation, both have had distinguished careers, both on the bench and in private practice.

Just as ardent Democrats didn’t much care for Roberts’ conservativism, ardent Republicans are visibly irked by Sotomayor’s liberalism.

Since the Senate rejected President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of then-Solicitor General Robert Bork to the Supreme Court during 1987, the nomination process has become increasingly partisan, polarized and undignified.

Bork’s nomination was rejected for two reasons – first, because a majority of senators were uncomfortable with his judicial philosophy, and secondly, because the nominee had the temerity to argue with his detractors.

There was never any doubt that Bork was extraordinarily well-qualified to serve as a justice of the Supreme Court. The largely Democratic Senate’s capricious rejection of the nominee created an unfortunate precedent, one which has diminished the authority and stature of the court itself.

Ideology should play no role in the Senate’s decision. Individual Senators should consider only the competence and qualifications of the nominee, not his or her supposed biases. The whole hearing process is a bizarre and unseemly spectacle, wherein nominees are grilled endlessly by senators who seek only to score political points.

Although we do not expect to agree with all the positions that Sotomayor might take should she be confirmed, that’s fine. The president has a right to nominate the person whom he believes to be most qualified to serve, and the Senate has the right, and duty, to examine his or her qualifications.

Ideally, the nine justices should bring keen minds, wide experience of the world and deep knowledge of the law to the highest court in the land. We also can hope, but scarcely require, that nominees will be not only well-qualified, but wise – that they will grow in understanding during their time on the bench and be worthy successors to the great men and women who have preceded them.

It is within the power of the Republican Party to put an end to this partisan mud wrestling. GOP senators should confine their questioning of Sotomayor strictly to her qualifications and not seek to “Bork” her, by demonizing her as some kind of ultra-left extremist.

Such maneuvering can only damage the party, the country and the Supreme Court.

For Republican senators to vote to confirm Judge Sotomayor, despite fundamental disagreement with many of her decisions and her apparent judicial philosophy, would be a political master stroke. Party leaders might remind Obama that he voted against confirming John Roberts during 2005, and demonstrate an apolitical magnanimity that the future president failed to attain.

In selecting Sotomayor, Obama has put Republican senators in an unenviable position. If they fail to vigorously oppose her nomination, they’ll be excoriated by the extreme right of the party – i.e., the activists and primary voters who might deny them re-nomination come election time.

But if they oppose her, the party may be damaged nationally, especially among Hispanic voters.

Like an NFL quarterback facing a fierce pass rush who finds all of his receivers covered, the GOP has no good options – except to hold on to the ball, take the sack and regroup.

After all, there’s always another game to play.