May 27th, 2009
04:32 PM ET
6 years ago

Source: Obama's pick wasn't pegged to Scalia

A source tells CNN that President Obama was looking for a nominee with the ability to win over Justice Anthony Kennedy.
A source tells CNN that President Obama was looking for a nominee with the ability to win over Justice Anthony Kennedy.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Contrary to conventional wisdom, President Obama was not looking for someone to balance the more flamboyant conservative firepower of Justice Antonin Scalia, according to one senior administration official involved in the process of picking, vetting and promoting the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

He was looking for someone with the ability to win over Justice Anthony Kennedy, the crucial swing vote.

"[Obama] was very struck, when he met with her, about how thoughtful she was as a judge," says the source. "He believed she had a precise approach to cases that would be effective in winning over Kennedy when possible."

The president considered Sotomayor's opinions to be "rigorous, precise, not overly flamboyant." Reports have called her more workmanlike than visionary – a precision that impressed Obama, who is looking to turn narrow decisions his way.

As for getting Sotomayor past the Senate: A decision has been made not to go the route of picking an outside lobbyist, as Republicans often do, to play "sherpa" for the nominee. The model instead is the way the late Sen. Pat Moynihan helped shepherd Ruth Bader Ginsburg's nomination through the Senate.

This time, it's another New York senator, Chuck Schumer, who will be Sotomayor's point man. Cynthia Hogan will lead the White House legal team on this effort, making courtesy calls next week. She will joined by Susan Davies and Ron Klain.

How will Sotomayor do at the hearings? This source points out that she's "got the most experience as a judge than anyone who's been nominated for the court in 70 years." Republicans, he said, told the president to nominate someone with judicial experience, and that is what Obama did. "She is very effective face to face, and has been on the bench for 17 years," he says. "She knows how to deal with public advocates."

The source dismissed the "Latina" controversy, arguing that Sotomayor's statements about how the life experiences of a Latina woman might help her "reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life" don't reflect identity politics, but what she believes to be the reality of her life – that she had to work harder to get where she is today. He also notes that during the same speech, she noted that the court that decided Brown vs. Board of education was all-male, and all-white.

Not surprisingly, he argues that all of the stir - including descriptions of her as a reverse racist - is about the GOP trying to figure out how to oppose her. "They're nervous about the political consequences of opposing her," he says. "And any effort to disparage her or her professional credentials will be hard."

This source points to her "huge paper trail," and says that's what the hearings should be about. "Efforts to try and turn her into something she's not will backfire," he says.


Filed under: President Obama • Sonia Sotomayor • Supreme Court
soundoff (111 Responses)
  1. fidel

    Only an intellectual lightweight like obama would think her opinions are careful and rigorous. They are not. If anything, she is the exact opposite. She's a result-oriented idealogue who is intellectually lazy and doesnt really care about the logic or reasoning of her opinions. She's also a loudmouth. She's the latin thurgood marshall in both regards. Anyone who thinks that these "attributes" will favorably influence kennedy is delusional.

    May 27, 2009 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  2. Jonathan

    That sounds about right for a lawyer who hates the constitution.

    May 27, 2009 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  3. Jeff E.

    Sorry, all you right wing lug nuts, this is America. You lost the election. An intelligent, thoughtful President just nominated the most experienced, intellectually capable person to be so honored in 70 years and all you can do is spew venom. This woman's experience and legal education exceeds every current member of the court at the time of their nomination. She will make a great justice.

    May 27, 2009 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  4. Heather

    Such a big deal is made over her race, but it seems to me, Obama made a political pick on totally different grounds. He found someone with a strong record, loads of experience and quality credentials who rules narrowly, is a moderate, and was previously picked by republicans, so has at least something that appeals to conservatives as well. Sotomayor is an OLIVE BRANCH, not an extreme pick at all, which Obama could probably cram down the throats of the 46% of the country who didn't vote for him, but he takes his pledge seriously to try and be the leader of the whole country. No one in the Senate is seriously skwaking about this pick, only the hysterical radio/talk show contingency.

    May 27, 2009 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  5. Dan, TX

    Barack Obama is a tricky guy with no experience. Anyway this drama will be over soon. watch out. This lady cannot be in Supreme Court.

    May 27, 2009 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  6. Peter E

    If it's about winning over the vote of an aging white male, he might as well have nominated Beyonce instead! Justice picks should be based on experience and competence, not race or politics! The last justice to be picked based on those was Clarence Thomas and he turned out to be the laziest, most partisan, most incompetent judge on that court ever!

    May 27, 2009 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  7. Dissent Is Cool

    I am struck by how few comments in this blog are actually related to President Obama's historic pick. I am floored by the insensitive, ignorant, ideological, and inappropriate comments made by several people within the blog, who clearly only want to bash President Obama and glorify the likes of Bush, Cheney, and Limbaugh.

    The article is about the strategy of selling Sotomayor to the American people and the Congress, and about the White House's strategy to use her as a force of persuasion within the Supreme Court's ranks. I think the President made an excellent choice, and I expect to see many great decisions decided through her vote and her ability to sway the swing judges.

    May 27, 2009 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  8. Charlie

    It's really sad that the most important qualification to be on the supreme court is that it has to be a policically correct choice rather than the best choice. I have no doubt she is a fine judge. I do doubt she is the best judge. I have not finished my research on her, but so far I find very little in the way of tough cases she has presided over.

    May 27, 2009 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  9. Munchieman

    Lately, I've been reading these comments a lot. All anyone who posts here seems to do is throw bricks at the other side. So many people here have already made up their minds about the nominee, yet who here has read a single decision that she has written?
    I'm also surprised nobody has mentioned her comment about the appeals court being where policy is made. Anyone who has any legal training knows that judges create law all the time. It's part of the process. And it is always in cases were legislation is missing or vague.
    I admit that I have not yet taken the time to read a decision of hers yet either. I'm also not judging her yet.
    I really hope the issue of judicial activisim gets discussed. Maybe then, lawmakers in Wasington and in the state capitals will learn that the best way to fight judicial activism, is to write laws that follow the constitution, are not vague, and most of all, keep the interests of the people of this nation as the FIRST priority!

    May 28, 2009 04:56 am at 4:56 am |
  10. Kent in CA

    @DRB #19: Thank you for your eloquent and thoughtful argument supporting same-sex marraige!
    Hey sniffit: getting some bad press here, I see. Well, if some ignorant bozo isn't calling you names, it wouldn't be America...

    May 28, 2009 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
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