WASHINGTON, May 26 (UPI) -- Federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor can thank a comedian and a former liberal Republican when she is confirmed as the first Hispanic justice to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sotomayor's nomination was announced Tuesday, and it immediately provoked a clear, partisan split between liberal democrats and conservative Republicans. But the GOP in the Senate is about to be reduced to a rump of 40 seats, once comedian Al Franken's victory over incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., is confirmed.
Franken's seating will follow the defection from the GOP of Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania after 28 years as a Republican senator. And that means the Republicans in the Senate will not be able to block Sotomayor's nomination by any filibuster.
UPI reported May 1 that Sotomayor was the front-runner to succeed retiring Justice David Souter from New Hampshire. Sotomayor, 54, sits on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. She originally was nominated to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush and elevated to her current seat by President Bill Clinton.
Sotomayor has the kind of rags-to-riches story that presidents love in their most prestigious nominations. She was born in New York to Puerto Rican parents and grew up in a housing project in the South Bronx. When George H.W. Bush named her to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, she was the youngest judge in the Southern District and the first Hispanic federal judge in New York state. Sotomayor has an excellent record in legal terms, she is a woman, and she is Hispanic.
Obama won his sweeping election victory on Nov. 4, 2008, with very strong support from the Hispanic community and from female activists. There is no judge of Hispanic background on the court, and the president has also made clear he would like to have another female justice sitting on it, especially as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been treated for cancer and it is not known how long she will choose to remain on the court.
In a statement, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised Sotomayor as the kind of judge who, when seated on the Supreme Court, would uphold "laws meant to protect Americans from discrimination in their jobs, their access to healthcare and education, and their privacy from an overreaching government."
Liberal groups welcomed Sotomayor's nomination as a moderate left-of-center appointment. But the GOP and conservative groups see her as a liberal activist who may seek to impose race and gender quotas in sweeping ways through court decisions.
Wendy E. Long, counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network, issued a statement Tuesday blasting Sotomayor as "a liberal judicial activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important that the law as written. She thinks that judges should dictate policy, and that one's sex, race, and ethnicity ought to affect the decisions one renders from the bench."
Long also said that Sotomayor had "an extremely high rate of her decisions being reversed, indicating that she is far more of a liberal activist than even the current liberal activist Supreme Court."
The choice of Sotomayor looks likely to further polarize political debate in Washington. But it is expected to play well with the Democratic Party's liberal grassroots, many of whom have expressed their frustration at Obama's recent efforts to navigate a middle ground on the legal principles governing national security arrests and incarceration of terror suspects.