May 27th, 2009
04:32 PM ET
9 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. Kevin

    If Jesus was nominated by Obama, people would still voice their disagreement saying he is too liberal, I mean the guy hung out with prostitutes and thugs..LOL People are too caught up on themselves.

    Sotomayor is not going to end the world with her Opinions on the bench. And she's not going to say its okay for the Slavery of white men women and children to commence nor is she going to say its okay give back all the land white people stole by violence and coercion from the Native Americans back to the Native Americans

    May 27, 2009 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  2. Kevin

    You people are idiots a bunch of Caucus-Asians afraid that the status quo you lived for so long at the suffering of people of color is going to end with one Opinion from the Bench. Please get real and get over yourselves.

    May 27, 2009 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  3. Obama Victim

    Democrats are about to understand what political juijitsu is.

    The MORE information that comes out against Sotomayer – the HARDER dems will push to get her approved.

    There are THOUSANDS of judges in America... yet the democrats will become beholden to "Obama's 1st Choice".

    They don't want to upset their dear leader. While independent-minded Americans will see the complete disregard for concerns over this nominee and see this scam for what it is.

    May 27, 2009 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  4. Ben

    Bob Evano – Buddy you are so frggin' cluless it's not even funny.

    May 27, 2009 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  5. James M. Holmes

    Obama – always a step ahead of the GOP...

    That is why the few remaining members of the GOP are so frustrated and angry... Not that they need help looking stupid, but Obama is running rings around them...

    The GOP has done NOTHING but throw everything they can make up at Obama and NOTHING sticks. His approval ratings are as high as ever... You would think at this point they should try something new like.. ummm I dunno... try to help get this country back on it's feet again and try to actually fix some of the problems the GOP created... but no, it's just cry, whine and complain... It's getting old NeoCons!

    May 27, 2009 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  6. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    Scalia is a fascist.....

    May 27, 2009 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  7. USA

    @John why don't you go back to the Daily Kos and join your friends and talk about how bad our country is. You are a typical liberal freak like Sniffit that would blame Bush for everything bad that happened. He kept us safe after 9/11(Let me guess inside job by Cheney and Bush), a thriving economy up until the subprime mess(thanks to Barney F), incomes were up, the market was up, and life was good for most people.(except for you since your space under the bridge became more packed over the last 6 months because of the economy). Also hate is a strong word and a typical feeling by you and your fellow Al Jazeera watchers. I will keep enjoying my time even though I disagree with this administration. You can continue to hate republicans and enjoy your miserable life.

    May 27, 2009 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  8. Laura, WA


    If this is true - and more importantly, if he's right in his assessment that she might be able to swing Kennedy - then Obama has once again proved he's the "smartest man in the room" - certainly way ahead of all the pundits yammering on TV, the hysterical knee-jerk reactions from the right, and some of the fretting on the left that Sotomayor is "not liberal enough".

    May 27, 2009 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  9. vette66

    She is also anti 2 amendment.
    have a great day while you can.

    May 27, 2009 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  10. Pete

    Bush had a "thriving economy"? Check the stats, during the first six years of his administration, Bush's record of creating jobs during economic growth was the WORST in modern history. It was anemic growth, exacerbated by borrowing several trillion dollars from China to finance a war of choice.

    By the way, you guys have a lot of stones praising Bush for "keeping us safe" when 9/11 happened on HIS WATCH.

    May 27, 2009 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  11. J S Ragman

    To TCM. If not for affirmative action (good ole white man network) everyone would be saying George W. who! Nobody has ever benefitted more from affirmative action than our recent Clown President. Do you really think the average person could have gotten into Yale with a C average? Don't think so pal! Get you head out of your rear-end and face the reality that affirmative action has been in play for generations. It's called "Being born into a lucky gene pool".

    May 27, 2009 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  12. Bill

    Scalia should Retire. Scalia supports Feudalistic ideology.

    May 27, 2009 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  13. Ben

    Ken Sales – Just like every other Lib you miss the point entirely. You seriously think shes competent? What are you smoking? Her opinions clearly have racial overtones. If you don't see that, you're not paying attention.

    May 27, 2009 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  14. Democrats are American Al Quaeda.

    He was very struck by how thoughtful she was, but he didn't seem to notice she is ignorant of the law and is overturned about 60% of the time.


    May 27, 2009 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  15. Fitz

    No Ben, I think Bob Evano has an excellent point.

    Maybe you and Obama victim are really roommates

    May 27, 2009 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  16. Tulsa

    Doug, New Jersey May 27th, 2009 4:56 pm ET

    Your stupidity is showing.

    May 27, 2009 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  17. Richard-Arkansas

    The last three Supreme Court confirmed nominees were all conservative Republican activists.

    How else do you explain the coronation of King George the Bush, by-passing 225 years of history including the US Constitution, the Revolutionary War, all of the wishes of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist Papers that they are so fond of quoting?

    Democrats-get her confirmed and if you don't vote for her, expect to see your opponent get some votes.

    Mark Pryor needs to look how many voted "Green" in the last election where he had no Republican opponent since he is a DINO to the locals. Blanche Lincoln, better hope no Green runs against you.

    May 27, 2009 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  18. USA

    PETE when another attack happens to the USA you will be the first to blame BUSH you hypocrite. Your lover Mr Clinton could have killed OBL but didn't want to. Also your new lover Barry doesn't want to waterboard the mastermind behind 9/11 you dink.

    May 27, 2009 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  19. FORMER republican, NEVER again!

    Fan of Common Sense – you sound more like a fan of something else, but just so you'll know, PRESIDENT Obama is a Constitutional Law Scholar. Stop listening to rush, hannity and newt so much and you just might sound intelligent for once.

    May 27, 2009 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  20. Ben

    J S Ragman – So you think nobody's benefited more from affirmative action than Bush? Are you really trying to be that stupid?

    May 27, 2009 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  21. Charlie in Maine

    The best thing about Sotomayor is that she is NOT the radical that the right-wingnuts will try to make her out to be. Once the country sees this it will seem like they are just idiots.

    May 27, 2009 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  22. just a guy

    I have no idea why pple are commenting on the statement racist. She was explaining that no one can make correct judgements all the time. But a person with enough education and experience can make more wise judegements than a person who does not have it.

    May 27, 2009 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  23. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    GOP can't block Sotomayor with Maine's Snowe and Collins on her side.... All GOP can do in the Senate is made rude noises.... what else is new?


    May 27, 2009 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  24. Ben

    James M. Holmes – So the GOP created all the problems in this country? Have you even been paying attention the last 30 years? The Democrats created the housing crisis and accept no responsibility for it. You need to wake up and smell the coffee.

    May 27, 2009 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  25. Ben

    Charlie in Maine – Get a clue. Her public staements CLEARLY show otherwise.

    May 27, 2009 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
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