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. Republicans are the American Taliban

    Tomorrow CNN will run a Ticker ..".Bristol Palin calls on Judge Sonia Sotomayor to withdraw! " Creating news is much more fun and profitable than just reporting it huh?

    May 27, 2009 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  2. Democrats are American Al Quaeda.

    Hooray, let's put another communist on the Supreme Court! Hooray!

    May 27, 2009 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  3. Gorbashov - Long Beach, Ca.

    Brillant strategy and logic again by the President!

    It's more important and pragmatic to chose someone who may be able to persuade Kennedy than to balance Scalias' medieval rhetoric.

    Well done Mr. President!

    Yes we did!!!

    May 27, 2009 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  4. Randy

    None of the 9/11 Terrorist were from Iraq.

    May 27, 2009 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  5. Randy

    War in Iraq was Bush's greed for oil. Bush never protected America. Bush made more enemies of America than Friends.

    May 27, 2009 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  6. dontreadonme


    I would hope that a wise white man with the richness of his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a female Hispanic who hasn’t lived that life.

    May 27, 2009 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  7. Morgan

    The fact of the matter is that representation is a major factor that should be considered in the review of law. Sotomayor is definitely correct in stating that her experience and struggles, which are certainly unique to her heritage, while help her formulate and reach decisions that are both different than a white male's and fair to the average American. Obviously, she has more judicial experience than most supreme court picks, so I find it hard to beleive that she does not have the merits to have been nominated anyway. Honestly, I feel comfortable with the fact that Obama's decisions are consistently based on helping the average American, which has changed drastically over the last generation in both racial and economic terms.

    May 27, 2009 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  8. Democrats are American Al Quaeda.

    A highly underqualified President nominates a highly underqualified person for the Supreme Court.

    Is anyone surprised?

    May 27, 2009 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  9. USA

    Randy you may be the dumbest person living.

    May 27, 2009 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  10. dontreadonme

    Randy May 27th, 2009 5:39 pm ET
    War in Iraq was Bush's greed for oil. Bush never protected America. Bush made more enemies of America than Friends.
    Then why did the dems in congress approve the war in the first place?
    Funny you want to see Bush in prision but you are fine with Sadam who butchered 100s of thousands of civilians. Liberals make no sense at all!

    We saved lives in Iraq!

    May 27, 2009 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  11. Jennifer

    To suggest that she is not qualified and assume that she does not have experience (when, in fact, she has a substantial amount of relevant experience) seems to suggest that you are basing your opinions on something other than her abilities.

    May 27, 2009 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  12. USA

    I need to waterboard myself – I dodged the draft like my heroes Bush, Cheney, and Limbaugh

    May 27, 2009 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  13. The Whole WORLD

    Randy please go away. You are a complete fool. Why don't you go home and watch your DVR recordings of Keith Olberman and Al Jazeera.

    May 27, 2009 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  14. jewels

    Reading these posts makes me think there are too many men out there with too much time on their hands. What a bunch of drivel. Are you folks like sniffit incapable of saying anything contentful. You sound like kids in junior high school.

    May 27, 2009 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  15. USA

    Former Bush Attorney General Gonzales: "I have no questions in my mind about her qualifications in terms of education, experience. A president is not required to nominate the most qualified person to the court. I think he's obligated to nominate someone who is well qualified, and I think by any measure she is well qualified.

    I think there are legitimate questions about her judicial philosophy, and again, that will be something that ... will be examined in the confirmation process."

    May 27, 2009 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  16. USA

    I'm going to use painkillers with Rush now

    May 27, 2009 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  17. USA

    Hey liberal USA I think it is pretty cheap to utilize another name just because it is the only thing you can spell and also a country you hate. Try to find another name. Since you lack intelligence I will list 5
    1. Communist
    2. Marxist
    3. Socialist
    4. Unemployed
    5. Hate Monger

    May 27, 2009 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  18. Jeff

    Republican Presidents Ronald Regan and George H.W. Bush and CIA supplied weapons to Taliban and other Muslim separatists to Disintegrate USSR in the 1980s and 1990s. These weapons were used in Bloodshed of thousands in Kazakhstan Tajikistan Uzbekistan Azerbaijan So now Russia is supplying weapons to Al Quida to Attack US.

    Who is a bigger threat? Russia or these Guantanamo Detainees?

    May 27, 2009 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  19. FORMER republican, NEVER again!

    Democrats are American Al Quaeda. – President Obama is infinitely more qualified than gwb who ruined this country.

    May 27, 2009 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  20. USA

    Who's the hate monger? Go back to the 1930s germany where your views might actually hold water. Maybe you might have forgotten what makes America great – the ability to have different opinions. Stop moaning because an immigrant came here, worked hard, and was successful.

    May 27, 2009 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  21. Paul

    Bush and Cheney should be in Jail.

    Bush mislead the Americans on WMDs of Iraq. Intelligence reports were manufactured to mislead Americans and the Congress to get support for Iraq war. Bush admitted this in his farewell address that intelligence report about Iraq WMDs was a **MISTAKE**

    4200 US Troop have died and 46000 US Troops have been injured due to the unjust War.

    Our Economy is in shambles because of the cost of war.

    May 27, 2009 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  22. Bud Burgoon-Clark

    The 2nd Amendment NEEDS to be repealed. Failing that, AMMUNITION (manufacture, sale) needs to be STRICTLY regulated. Gun nuts are just that: NUTS.

    May 27, 2009 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  23. Kyle

    Seriously, is this chick just about the ugliest bean you have ever seen? I mean, SHOCKER she's not married. Given the choice of banging her or a goat, I would get a serious boner over the goat.

    May 27, 2009 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  24. Eric

    USA, I do know the ideas that live wildly in your head are vague and confused, but can you write a comment that actually makes sense. Thank you.
    A reader who wonders if you can bring anything intelligent to a discussion.

    May 27, 2009 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  25. malclave

    Obama was just looking for someone to match the Democratic Party's Affirmative Action targets.

    Competence is irrelevant. She might be a very good judge... but all that matters is her sex and ethnic background, and she knows it.

    May 27, 2009 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
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