May 27th, 2009
04:32 PM ET
5 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. Darth Vadik, CA

    Scalia doesn't need balancing, he needs to be in the nut house.

    May 27, 2009 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  2. Darth Vadik, CA

    I love it when conservatives try to sound smart and they just come off as dumb as door knobs. kinda like Bush, thinks he's cool but the whole world laughs at him.

    Carlos Mencia said it best "Dee Dee Dee"

    May 27, 2009 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  3. Had It

    How many white men on the Supreme Court?

    How many catholics on the Supreme Court?

    Anything lopsided about the Supreme Court?

    May 27, 2009 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  4. Morgan

    Perhaps we could stay on topic instead of degrading this to a mudslinging contest. Personally, I think that the traditional Republican concept of limited government is a noble ambition and, ultimately, their only hope of reforming the party. Currently, I believe Republicans are too polarizing because of their incompromising push to hold all of America to their own religious views (gay marriage and abortion obviously being the main factors).

    I believe in having strong moral values, but I believe a lot more that religion has no place in government. Since Republicans are typically so unyielding in their religious principals, they end up alienating people who might otherwise belong to their base.

    May 27, 2009 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  5. Mari( maybe one of my comments will be posted)

    @ USA.............. Honestly! How pathetic can you be????????????!

    Your comments are vile. Blogs are about debate, intelligent debate, if you HATE Liberals SO much you will be in trouble since........... 62% of AMERICANS approve of our president!

    AND........ USA......... you do realize that name calling is exactly why many Americans have left the GOP!

    ONLY 21% OF AMERICANS claim to be GOP........ that says it all!

    May 27, 2009 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  6. fishy fish

    Obama, move a pion, and let the enemies ( Republicans) destroy themselves. Priceless!

    May 27, 2009 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  7. annie for Palin

    Why should the GOP be worried about how the hispanics will look at them if they object to the appointment of sotomayer – 2/3 of the hispanics are illegals. If I remember correctly voting is only allowed for legal American citizens. Is sotomayer legal? If her mother is still living is she legal. Oops, I forgot how acorn (acorn is a nut you know) gives everyone the right to vote – dead or alive, cartoon character, illiegal aliens, aliens, cats, dogs, fish, birds, wild animals, domestic animals, statues, criminally insane, totally insane, deathrow inmates, etc.

    May 27, 2009 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  8. Kurtis J

    Dear USA,
    Winning presidential elections does have its privileges. Better luck next time.

    May 27, 2009 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  9. Peter (CA)

    Wonderful to see all of the right wing legal scholars on here.
    Plus the bonus of TCM's inane rant of the day.

    Sotomayor has not reached her current position by being unqualified. You might not agree with her but I don't agree with Clarence Thomas either.

    May 27, 2009 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  10. Albo58

    Obama picked Sotomyer because she is a liberal, a woman and someone of latin dissent PERIOD! Her qualifications were totally secondary to winning Spanish support for future elections AND to continue to have yet another loon like Souter on the bench!

    May 27, 2009 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  11. Peter (CA)

    Doug @ 4:56

    "Like every other lib he is morally irrelevant."

    Thanks again Doug for showing us how you and your fellow right wingers take the high road on these blogs. All I ever hear from you guys is bunch of whining about all the horror people who do not agree with you are doing. And what exactly has your ilk done for us? War? Poverty? A complete disdain for the poor and the oppressed? Abandonment of our cities? Anything else?

    May 27, 2009 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  12. Brian

    "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?"

    Sonia Sotomayer: B.A. Princeton (summa cum laude), law degree from Yale (also editor of law review), successful in private practice as Intellectual Property attorney, nominated to federal bench by George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton.

    And you?

    May 27, 2009 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  13. Kill that noise

    Republicans losing more votes ..How much more are the Republicans going to sink them selves..Rush Limbaugh eats lots of cheeseburgers..

    May 27, 2009 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  14. Meg

    Sotomayor is a racist

    May 27, 2009 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  15. Michele

    So it's OK if Alito believes in expanded executive power, and was chosen by Bush because of that, but it's not OK for Obama to choose a very qualified female minority candidate. What bothers conservatives more, that she's Latino or female? She's one voice on the court. One.

    May 27, 2009 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  16. Bushed

    But you crazy Pubs think Harriet Myers was qualified.....

    May 27, 2009 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  17. Tony

    dreamer May 27th, 2009 4:34 pm ET

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

    ========================================================

    What political pressure? That was political pressure, right? You should learn how to spell. Sonia Sotomayor is extremely qualified, and to anyone who says that she isn't obviously hasn't read her opinions and resume.

    May 27, 2009 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  18. indy

    I don't think a court should be empathetic. I want the law dispersed fairly. I always thought justice was supposed to be blind. The nominee sounds as though she doesn't truly believe that. I have a problem with that line of thinking.

    May 27, 2009 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  19. MK

    I doubt very seriously that any white man can speak from a womans issue, I doubt very seriously that any women can speak from a man's point of view, I doubt very seriously that a hispanic man can speak from a hispanic women's point of view etc....

    May 27, 2009 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  20. fred

    So Obama picked her to persuade someone else? Interesting. I'm sure Anthony Kennedy feels great about Obama wanting someone to try to get him to think a certain way about the constitution.

    May 27, 2009 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  21. Vietnam Vet71

    Fan of Common Sense May 27th, 2009 4:56 pm ET

    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.

    Non-Sense–the talking points have been distributed to the lemmings!

    May 27, 2009 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  22. Steve J, Michigan

    I don't know alot about her just what i've seen and ready lately but I do know how her comments are already being skewered by the right... Plus, the fact Bush Sr. appointted her is also a benefit.. Imagine voting for her back then and know claiming she's unfit?? What jurist on the SCOTUS doesn't use thier own interpertations in making their rulings.. As usually the Repugs don't have a leg to stand on.... Keep up the misrepresentation of statements in the end you'll look like the fools that you are..

    Steve-Mich

    May 27, 2009 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  23. Ted Tartaglia

    The RepubliCONs on this post seem to be going all out trying to rewrite history. Just a bunch of whining losers.

    May 27, 2009 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  24. Hans Brecker, Albany NY

    I think it is great that the only reason someone is picked is because of their race and gender........I also noticed how a lot of people who write on these message boards cannot spell or don't use the
    correct word(s).......America is truly the land of the sheep following the dumb.

    May 27, 2009 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  25. Hans Brecker, Albany NY

    " to balance out the court" ?????? I thought the Supreme Court Justices were to interpret the Constitution, not balance out anything...if the Constitution says it's wrong, it's wrong. There shouldn't need to be a balancing act....well unless you are an ILLEGAL ALIEN

    May 27, 2009 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
1 2 3 4 5