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Robert Reich: Sotomayor and the Republicans

May 27, 2009

Put on your seatbelts. Many Republicans have been itching for this fight. They figure if they can make Sonia Sotomayor appear “too liberal,” “too activist,” or “intemperate” — and cause Obama to withdraw her nomination, or if they can defeat her outright — they can slow the Obamomentum that’s leading to universal health care, cap-and-trade, more spending on education, and higher taxes on the rich. This would also give them a crack at winning back a number of seats next November, which they know they can’t win if their major issues are torture and taxes and if their major spokesmen are Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh.

But if they choose to vilify Sotomayor, Republicans take a huge gamble. They could lose even more women and Hispanic voters in 2010 and beyond. And they could alienate even more Independents already turned off by the Republican “just-say-no” approach to almost everything.

Besides, it will be hard for Republicans to pigeonhole Sotomayor. Although as an appellate judge she has sided with defendants, inmates, convicted felons, and environmentalists, she has also taken decidedly conservative stances. In 2002, she ruled against an abortion rights group that claimed the so-called “Mexico City Policy,” prohibiting U.S. funding for foreign groups performing or supporting abortion services, violated their First Amendment rights. She reasoned that the government is “free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position.” In a 2004 case she ruled in favor of anti-abortion protesters who claimed a city had improperly trained police officers who allegedly used excessive force on them. And she has ruled against a number of minority plaintiffs in discrimination cases.

And she has an impeccable upward-through-education-and-hard-work pedigree: She grew up in public housing in the Bronx, the daughter of a factory worker, and got a law degree from Yale.

Still, never underestimate the Republicans’ capacity for taking big political risks that turn out badly. Remember Sarah Palin? Republicans may figure that they’re so badly decimated already, so marginalized and irrelevant, there’s little to lose and possibly much to gain by going negative on Sotomayor and unleashing their terror-TV and rant-radio attack dogs. It’s also possible that without much remaining of any moderate view inside their own ranks, Republicans may simply lack the wisdom — dare I call it judiciousness? — to opt for a more sensible strategy.

Robert B. Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written eleven books (including his most recent, Supercapitalism, which is now out in paperback). Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s “Marketplace” are heard by nearly five million people. This entry appeared on his blog.

Copyright 2009 Robert B. Reich

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