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. dreamer

    Flip-flop oboma caved to politcal pressure,He nominated someone that is polor opposite on affermitive action.

    May 27, 2009 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  2. USA

    Sniffit is a communist and a hater of everything American.

    May 27, 2009 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  3. Eugene

    Every nail the Republicans hammer into their own coffin is a good nail. Just keep knocking them in there, Newt. Sotomayor is no radical.

    May 27, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  4. Polar Bears Against Palen

    dreamer, you are as lazy as George W. Bush. Try a spell-checker next time.

    May 27, 2009 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  5. The Broker.

    Obama picks conflict, and gets it every time. But it will not save him in the long haul. It will all backfire on him.. To much Conflict kills the Drama.

    May 27, 2009 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  6. TCM

    Without Affirmative Action.....Sonia who? If she were white...Sonia who? If she were the most qualified individual, but not hispanic or female....Sonia who? Basically, this move was either payback or future payment for hispanic votes. It's a shame to see so much support for someone who's so into their own agenda, and so anti-American values. Liberalism is a disease. The cure's coming in the fall of 2010.

    May 27, 2009 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  7. FORMER republican, NEVER again!

    President Obama has proven to this country time and time again that he is a brilliant man! This choice is just another example of it.

    dreamer – you are a part of a dying breed of rethuglicans that i am proudly no longer a member of.

    May 27, 2009 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  8. Republicans are the American Taliban

    Rhetorically speaking, both Newt Gingrich and Rush " Tokyo Rose " Limbaugh should commit suicide....

    May 27, 2009 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  9. wishing

    Thoughtful. Sounds like a great characteristic for a justice, or a President. What a change!

    May 27, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  10. Sharon Kitchen

    she will do fine.
    No matter what people throw at her.

    May 27, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  11. Brian in IL

    Why doesn't Obama just pass a law saying we have to do whatever Santermyer says? That way she can be on the Supreme Court, case closed. Otherwise, I would definitely not want her on there.

    May 27, 2009 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  12. obama supporter

    I agree with your comments USA, sniffit is on here over and over and his comments are awful

    May 27, 2009 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  13. John

    @ USA May 27th, 2009 4:39 pm ET
    Sniffit is a communist and a hater of everything American.
    ____________________________________________

    Go learn the Definition of Communist. Sniffit hates Republican, because they screwed up America in the last 8 years.

    I think you too are a Republican.

    But America is not all about Republicans.

    May 27, 2009 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  14. Bob Evano

    Another victory for Obama! 2012 is a foregone conclusion.

    Check. And Mate.

    See ya rethuglicans, wouldn't want to be ya.

    Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, Goodbye! And good riddance.

    May 27, 2009 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  15. Doug, New Jersey

    She wont win over Kennedy since he already knows that she believes that as a white man, he is inferior to her.

    Webster.com libs, sorry nothing about an ideological clause in the defintion of racism, no double standard that says critiquing Sonia's own words is racist while saying Clarence Thomas is not an African American is a tolerant statement.

    May 27, 2009 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  16. Doug, New Jersey

    Yes Sniffit is a great name for him, since his life long dream is to give Obama a colonosphy.

    Like every other lib he is morally irrelevant.

    May 27, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  17. Fan of Common Sense

    She was chosen for three reasons and three reason ONLY: She's a woman, she's hispanic and, more importantly, she's anti-consitution (just like Obama).

    Never mind she is a reverse racist, never mind that she doesn't understand (or care) the intended purpose of supreme court justices, never mind that she has lousy jurisprudence.

    May 27, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  18. Jon in CA

    Article states,

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

    Does Kennedy have a thing for ugly latina women?

    Is Kennedy so incapable of formulating an opinion that he needs other people to do it for him??

    What exactly does that mean..."to win over Justice Anthony Kennedy"?

    May 27, 2009 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  19. DRB

    "a precision that impressed Obama, who is looking to turn narrow decisions his way."

    This is AMERICA – I take a stand on the 14th Amendment and so should every American including the President!!! Equal protection for ALL Americans. Obama has ZERO RIGHTS to "turn decisions HIS way." There is but ONE rule of law that we all live under in America and it is NOT the Presidents laws but rather our United States of America CONSTITUTION that is to be applied equally and fairly to all citizens. This is treason and tyranny against America!!!!

    May 27, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  20. Ken Sales

    First Judge Sotomayor is a brilliant and competent judge worthy of being a Supreme Court Justice. Having met that criteria providing balance to the Court by placing a woman of diversity on it is absolutely the right thing to do. In what way does any other member of the court have superior credentials?

    May 27, 2009 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  21. RealityKing

    The president considered Sotomayor's opinions to be "rigorous, precise, not overly flamboyant." ???

    Journalism is obviously dead in America.

    May 27, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  22. dontreadonme

    How can you libs condone the hurtful racist statement by Sotomayor?
    Obama by selecting her is dismissing racism for political advantage. Does he want white male Republicans to face off against Hispanics for his political advantage. He had to know this would happen!

    May 27, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  23. Terry

    Let's consider Sotomayor's decision about the police department promotion exam on which Blacks and Hispanics scored lower than whites. First, to me, the potential bias on the test would depend on the test. If the questions were job specific, then it doesn't matter what color you are. If the questions were general knowledge, then educational background and other race related factors might bias the test. (I speak as someone who always gets a higher score on standardized tests than he deserves. I am a terrific test-taker.)

    That aside, what did Sotomayor support? She supported a branch of local government that was applying local community standards to its decision. Conservatives, on the other hand, are arguing that a federal judge should have overruled a local government decision. Just like they did with the 2000 elections.

    May 27, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  24. a real American

    I keep hearing about all the reasons why this woman was picked....her lifestory, the need to diversify the SC, the political conundrum it puts Republicans in, and now the need to influence another justice on the court. Is it just me or has Sotomayor been nominated for all the wrong reasons?

    Here's a thought: imagine if the names and backgrounds of all the candidates being considered were omitted from their resumes, and the decision had to be made strictly upon experience and competence rather than ethnicity and philosophy. Do you think Sotomayor would have been chosen? Doubtful!

    May 27, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  25. RealityKing

    And CNN is nothing more than a progressive tabloid spewing forth whitehouse.govs talking points.

    May 27, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
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