President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace Justice David Souter is the type of decision we have come to expect from the Obama administration. It involved important political considerations and will likely prove to be good enough for liberals but not off-putting for conservatives.
Let me start off with the assumption that she will almost certainly be confirmed. Her background is relatively moderate and despite a few minor slip-ups, she has maintained a relatively non-controversial paper-trail. Elementary political considerations also mean that Senators will vote in favor of Judge Sotomayor in order to please their own individual constituencies.
I’m not surprised that the President selected such a home-run candidate as his first nominee. For better or worse, judicial nominees have been a losing proposition for recent Democratic presidents and this President was cognizant of that trend. The President hasn’t made any high-profile moves in his first few months in office and he has treaded lightly in the most controversial arenas, preferring to keep his head down in areas like same-sex marriage and abortion. Choosing a nominee like Pamela Karlan or Kathleen Sullivan would have mean jumping head-first into those issues and this President has not shown any inclination to do that. Especially in light of the imminent decision of the California Supreme Court on Proposition 8, the nomination of either of those two candidates would have sparked another potentially-fatal reaction from the right.
Judge Sotomayor likely won the nomination of the likes of Judge Diane Wood and Solicitor General Elena Kagan because of her compelling background story and the presumptive ease with which she will be confirmed. Of all the nominees that had been mentioned, Sotomayor was likely the easiest pick and that fact did not escape the White House.