Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s pick to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by David Souter’s recent retirement, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, bringing her a step closer to becoming a Supreme Court Justice.
If confirmed, Judge Sotomayor would become the first hispanic and the third woman to serve as a justice in the highest court of the land. I applaud her story and experience, and her ability to rise from an impoverished upbringing in the Bronx to now be considered for a high office. While her accomplishments are many, and her gender and ethnicity notable, I hope that these things together do not comprise the reasons for her nomination. I think it’s great to have a hispanic woman on the bench (not like in sports), but I think it would be reprehensible for her to be nominated only because she is a hispanic woman.
Whether or not you support Sotomayor’s nomination, the path of her nomination to likely confirmation have brought up additional questions concerning the proper roles and interactions of the three branches of our government.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) was the only republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote in favor of Sotomayor’s confirmation. The vote would have passed without Graham, but he made a point of announcing his approval of Sotomayor’s ascencion. It is not Graham’s vote for Sotomayor that irks me, but his apparent reasons for doing so. The New York Times reports:
Mr. Graham said he understood why his Republican colleagues were voting against her nomination. But he said he judged her to be highly qualified, and he noted that Mr. Obama had won the presidential election and with it, the right to choose his own nominees.
NPR quotes Graham as saying:
“My inclination is that elections matter and I’m not going to be upset with any of my colleagues who find that you’re a bridge too far,” says Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “But President Obama won the election and I will respect that.”
Earlier, Graham said that “we lost, and President Obama won, and that ought to matter.”
I do not know Graham’s mind or heart, but his comments appear to infer that it doesn’t matter if he personally accepts or rejects Sotomayor’s nomination. As president, Obama’s pick should automatically be confirmed, according to Graham. Apparently the president won that right when he won the election.
To allow any president, republican or democrat, liberal or conservative, such sweeping power undermines the separation of powers outlined within the Constitution. Graham’s (and every other senator’s) true responsibility is not to confirm any nominee the president selects, but to scrutinize and critique every nominee. And then to vote in favor of only those nominees who they feel will fully uphold the rule of law in protecting the people from each other, and from the needy tentacles of the federal government.
Consider this excerpt from Article II, Section 2
[The President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: (italics added).
Call me nitpicky, but this seems to one of those opportunities for the Legislative branch to check and balance the power of the Executive branch. But this only works when legislators understand their role question the choices of the president, no matter how much they like him.
Perhaps Graham (and many of his colleagues) would benefit from watching some SchoolHouse Rock. If you happen to know him, please pass this on.