Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Throughout the run-up to last year's presidential election, there was little attention paid outside of legal circles to whom candidate Barack Obama might select to sit on the Supreme Court if given the opportunity.
All that changed Tuesday, when President Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, based in New York City, to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter.
For the next several months, until her confirmation by the Senate, Sotomayor will draw the ire of a segment of diehard Republicans who are as blinded by all things Obama as a segment of dyed-in-the-wool Democrats were - and still are - by all things Bush.
But, contrary to the protests of some of my friends who tilt right, Sotomayor indeed is eminently qualified to sit on this nation's highest court and should be confirmed and sworn in, absent the unearthing of an earth-shattering revelation.
Sotomayor, a graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School, first was nominated as a judge for the Southern District of New York by President George H.W. Bush in 1992. She was elevated to the Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton in 1998. Prior to becoming a judge, she served as an assistant district attorney prosecuting criminal cases and in private practice.
For naysayers of the president to attempt to put a chink in his armor by challenging the quality of Sotomayor's mind, or the depth of her legal and judicial experience, is ridiculously foolhardy.
But, truth be told, it's not Sotomayor's intellect, education or legal experience that most bothers some of the hardcore on the conservative side of the political divide. Instead, it's a six-sentence appeals court opinion striking down a reverse discrimination lawsuit brought by white firefighters and an out-of-context public statement purportedly trumpeting the superiority of her sex and ethnicity over that of white men that has set off bells and whistles.
Those bells and whistles amount to nothing more than a false alarm.
The firefighter case alleging reverse discrimination on the part of New Haven, Conn., officials - where Sotomayor and two of her colleagues ruled in favor of discarding a promotion exam when the results proved unfavorable to African-American and Hispanic firefighters who took the exam - was, arguably, wrongly decided. Many legal experts predict Sotomayor's suspiciously brief appellate ruling will be overturned by the Supreme Court next month.
Still, what Sotomayor's detractors fail to point out either because of ignorance, intentional misleading or both, is that based on current precedents underlying employment discrimination law - and until the Supreme Court overturns those precedents - the ruling is not nearly so radical as to disqualify Sotomayor.
The now oft-quoted statement by Sotomayor - "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life" - has been taken so far out of the context in which it was made as to completely distort the meaning of the 2001 speech from which it was clipped.
As numerous commentators have demonstrated this week by providing the complete speech from which that truncated quote was snapped, Sotomayor was delivering a refreshingly honest assessment of how all judges - as much as they may claim otherwise and truly aspire for it to not be the case - are affected by the reality of their heritage and experiences.
And significantly, that school of thought - that the Constitution is a living document and that the justices who interpret it should look outside the walls of the courthouse when deciding cases - has been hotly debated for years by lawyers, judges and politicians without resolution. Sotomayor is not far apart from those who ascribe to that school of thought, including some already on the Supreme Court.
So, what should those who are unhappy with the selection of Sotomayor do instead of deliberately taking her statements out of context and using race and ethnicity as a transparent dull partisan political ax that will only split the party wielding it?
It's quite simple.
Those of us unhappy with the election of Obama and the dangerous policies he and a Congress controlled by Democrats are visiting upon the nation and the world would be wise to work harder at attracting votes through the power of constructive ideas instead of through false representations and character assassination.
In short, those opposed to the Obamas and Sotomayors of the world need to win at the ballot box - not in the gutter.
After all, elections have consequences. In this case, supreme consequences.