The Sotomayor SCOTUS Week In Review

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Perhaps the roll out of Sonia Sotomayor could have gone better for Barack Obama. She could have announced a cure for cancer in her first public address, for instance, or a recently discovered stockpile of cash that will settle out the national debt. Kim Jong Il might have called from North Korea to say that he liked her so much he was giving up his nuclear ambitions.

But considering how the roll out went, the White House has little to complain about. By the end of the week, the Gallup poll showed that Americans by a 14-point margin had a positive response to her nomination, putting her on par with the response that greeted the announcement of John
Roberts. By contrast, the nominations of Samuel Alito and Harriet Myers had immediate positive reactions outweigh negative reactions by a margin 4 and 3 points, respectively.

The hickups that the White House did face–about a Youtube video showing her joking about making policy from the bench, and about her comment that minority women might be “better” at deciding cases than white men–have not proven themselves to be barriers to her nomination. As insurance, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said today that she “if she had the speech to do all over again, I think she’d change that word”–better.

Meanwhile, the same comment has caused deep fissures within the Republican Party, which has long had a soft spot for debates over identity politics. Radio personalities and former politicians have been competing for the most controversial way to brand her a racist for those comments–a strategy that is sure to increase skepticism for the GOP from Hispanic voters. (The prizes go to former Rep. Tom Tancredo for calling the Latino civil rights organization a “KKK” without “the hoods or the nooses” and Rush Limbaugh, who accused her of “hating white people” and compared her to David Duke, a former member of the KKK.)

Such comments caused elected Republicans and their allies to lash out at the harsher comments. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who is leading the GOP 2010 effort, said the comments of Rush were “not appropriate,” “terrible” and “wrong.” RNC Chairman Michael Steele chimed in today to say that Republicans should stop “slamming and ramming” on Sotomayor in favor of a more measured response.

This intraparty sideshow, with all its hot-button pressure points, now threatens to overshadow the actual discussion of Sotomayor’s record. And while that may not be the same as a cure for cancer or a nuclear free North Korea, it’s certainly a development that the White House welcomes.