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Context of 'May 29, 2009: Republican Chair Advises Republicans to Abandon Racially Motivated Attacks on Supreme Court Nominee'

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Tom Goldstein, a veteran lawyer who maintains the Supreme Court-focused, nonpartisan “SCOTUSblog,” writes that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) will be the focus of caricatures and character attacks from the right, just as Justices Samuel Alito (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006) and John Roberts (see September 29, 2005) were from the left. Goldstein’s assessment is echoed by ABC’s “The Note,” an influential daily political newsletter. Goldstein, who has argued cases before the Court over 20 times, writes that barring some serious revelation of ethical violations, Sotomayor is almost guaranteed to be confirmed by the Senate, but before that, she will be subjected to attacks from what he calls “committed ideologues.” Few “mainstream Republican politicians will vocally join the criticism,” he predicts. In a political sense, it would be disastrous for Republicans to mount serious opposition to a Hispanic woman, or Latina. “To Hispanics, the nomination would be an absolutely historic landmark,” Goldstein writes. “It really is impossible to overstate its significance. The achievement of a lifetime appointment at the absolute highest levels of the government is a profound event for that community, which in turn is a vital electoral group now and in the future.” Such attacks would comprise “a strategy that risks exacting a very significant political cost among Hispanics and independent voters generally, assuming that the attacks aren’t backed up with considerable substance.” The attacks will come from any of four major areas, Goldstein predicts. [Tom Goldstein, 5/26/2009]
Attacks Led by Conservatives outside Congress - ABC’s Jonathan Karl agrees. He writes: “At the start, Senate Republicans will likely make innocuous statements about the need to thoroughly review her record, but make no mistake, GOP leaders, with a big assist from outside conservative groups, will wage a vigorous campaign against this nomination.… Senate Republicans don’t expect to defeat the Sotomayor nomination. But they hope to raise enough questions about the nomination to make it a tough vote for Democratic senators in more conservative states. They will also use the confirmation battle as an opportunity to motivate a demoralized Republican base” (see May 1, 2009). [ABC News, 5/26/2009]
Attacks on Sotomayor's Intellect - The first series of attacks, Goldstein writes, will focus on the claim that she “is not smart enough for the job.” He writes that this is a powerful line of argument with an equally strong potential for backlash, so it will be handled carefully and obliquely. Unfortunately for this position, he writes, “Sotomayor is in fact extremely intelligent.” She graduated at the top of her class at Princeton, and her judicial opinions “are thorough, well-reasoned, and clearly written. Nothing suggests she isn’t the match of the other Justices.” Goldstein’s predictions are reflected in a number of public columns and commentaries (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 29, 2009, and May 31, 2009).
'Liberal Ideologue and Judicial Activist' - The second line of attack will be purely ideological, focusing on the claim that she is a “liberal ideologue” and a “judicial activist.” While Sotomayor would be on the left of the Court, Goldstein writes, she is hardly a radical liberal. She is very similar to the man she is slated to replace, Justice David Souter, as a moderate, centrist liberal. Her appellate opinions as reviewed by the Court put her squarely with the left-center wing of the current Court. Karl writes, “They will call her an ‘activist’ judge intent on making law from the bench, not interpreting law.” Their predictions are reflected in a number of public columns and commentaries (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 29, 2009, May 29, 2009, and June 3, 2009).
Intolerant of Positions Contrary to Her Own - The third wave of attack will claim, Goldstein writes, that she is intolerant of positions with which she disagrees. Proponents of this line of attack will focus on a decision she wrote that upheld affirmative action laws to the detriment of white firefighters, on a panel appearance in which she acknowledged that appellate judges sometimes make public policy, and a speech where she talked about the role her gender and ethnicity played in her decision-making. They will also focus, Karl notes, on a 2002 speech where she said the sex and ethnic origin of a judge can affect their decisions. Sotomayor said, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life” (see October 26, 2001). “These reeds are too thin for that characterization to take hold,” Goldstein writes. The public “is easily able to accept a judge’s recognition of the lawmaking effects of her decisions and the influences of her background. There just isn’t any remotely persuasive evidence that Judge Sotomayor acts lawlessly or anything of the sort.” Goldstein’s predictions are reflected in a number of public columns and commentaries (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 29, 2009, and June 3, 2009). [ABC News, 5/26/2009; Tom Goldstein, 5/26/2009]
Personality Characteristics - The fourth wave of attacks will characterize her as, Goldstein writes, “gruff and impersonable,” based on some excerpts from oral arguments and a few anonymous criticisms voiced in the “Almanac of the Federal Judiciary.” Sotomayor can easily quash these attacks with a few well-turned statements in the public eye. From his own experiences arguing cases before the Court, Goldstein believes Sotomayor is similar in demeanor and temperment to Justices Roberts, Souter, and Antonin Scalia. Goldstein’s predictions are reflected in a number of public columns and commentaries (see May 27, 2009. May 29, 2009, and June 3, 2009).
Missed Line of Attack - Neither Goldstein nor Karl write about the direct attacks on Sotomayor’s race and gender that some conservatives will launch (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009. May 29, 2009, June 2, 2009, June 3, 2009, and June 5, 2009). Goldstein’s own analysis of Sotomayor’s rulings will thoroughly disprove the allegations of racial bias (see May 29, 2009).
Conclusion - Goldstein concludes, “All in all… her easy confirmation seems assured.” [Tom Goldstein, 5/26/2009]

Entity Tags: David Souter, Sonia Sotomayor, Jonathan Karl, US Supreme Court, Thomas Goldstein, ABC News

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) says that because Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) is what he calls a “Latina woman racist,” she should immediately withdraw her nomination. Gingrich bases his remark on a 2001 comment by Sotomayor in which she said she “hopes that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life” (see October 26, 2001). Sending a text message on Twitter, Gingrich writes: “Imagine a judicial nominee said, ‘My experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman.’ New racism is no better than old racism.” He follows with another message: “White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw.” Republican National Committee (RNC) media chairman Todd Herman quickly “retweets” Gingrich’s message, which usually signifies agreement with the message, but the RNC will refuse to say whether or not it officially endorses Gingrich’s comment. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs replies that Gingrich is probably not the best source of information or guidance on the issue, and warns against excessive rhetoric: “I think it is probably important for any involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they’ve decided to describe different aspects of the impending confirmation. I think we’re satisfied that when the people of America and the people of the Senate get a chance to look at more than just the blog of a former lawmaker that they’ll come to the same conclusion that the president did.” [Think Progress, 5/27/2009; Plum Line, 5/27/2009; Washington Times, 5/28/2009] Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, refuses to align himself with Gingrich’s characterization. Asked about Gingrich’s remark, Hatch says, “No, I don’t agree with that.” [Think Progress, 5/27/2009] Days later, Gingrich will appear to withdraw the “racist” characterization, although he will go on to accuse Sotomayor of “betray[ing]” the “American system” of law (see June 3, 2009).

Entity Tags: Newt Gingrich, Sonia Sotomayor, US Supreme Court, Orrin Hatch, Todd Herman, Robert Gibbs

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Pat Buchanan on MSNBC.Pat Buchanan on MSNBC. [Source: Vosizneias (.com)]Conservative pundit Pat Buchanan calls Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) an “affirmative action candidate” for the Court. “I don’t say it’s an outrage, I say it’s affirmative action,” Buchanan says. “They were picked because she’s a woman and a Hispanic and you know it as well as I do.” His sole evidence for his claim is the fact that President Obama apparently had no males on his short list of potential nominees. When host Norah O’Donnell points out that in past nominations the list of nominees had been exclusively white males, and perhaps “there weren’t any white men who were qualified” this time around, Buchanan calls her a bigot. When guest Lawrence O’Donnell, a former Democratic Senate staffer (and no relation to the host), asks if he would have raised similar objections if the list had contained no women, Buchanan refuses to answer. Think Progress correspondent Amanda Terkel notes that Buchanan has, in the past, avowed that slavery was good for African-Americans, wished for an America that was 90 percent white, and accused Hispanics of not wanting to “assimilate.” Lawrence O’Donnell says of Buchanan’s argument: “It’s like watching a dead fish flop around on the deck. You’re dead on this one, Pat. It’s all over.” [Think Progress, 5/27/2009] The next day, Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes follows Buchanan’s lead, saying that Sotomayor is “one of those who has benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously.” Radio host William Bennett, featuring Barnes as his guest, replies, “Did she get into Princeton on affirmative action, one wonders,” to which Barnes repeats, “One wonders.” [Think Progress, 5/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Patrick Buchanan, Fred Barnes, Amanda Terkel, Lawrence O’Donnell, Sonia Sotomayor, Norah O’Donnell, US Supreme Court, William J. Bennett

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, guest-hosting William Bennett’s radio show, says that Republicans should not attack Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) over her race (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, and May 28, 2009). Doing so risks damaging the Republican Party’s image, he says. Steele, who is an African-American, warns that the “liberal media,” and particularly MSNBC, will use the racially motivated attacks to paint Republicans as bigots. “MSNBC will rip everything we have to say up into shreds,” he says. “I’m excited that a Hispanic woman is in this position,” he says. Republicans should stop “slammin’ and rammin’” on Sotomayor, and instead “acknowledge” the “historic aspect” of the pick and make a “cogent, articulate argument” against her for purely substantive reasons. Steele says the party doesn’t want to “get painted as a party that’s against the first Hispanic woman” picked for the Supreme Court. Democrats have made similar attacks on conservative candidates in the past, Steele avers, and says that the “liberal media” gave Democrats an unfair advantage in such controversies. Steele does not mention two of the loudest voices in the racially-based attacks against Sotomayor, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh. Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent writes: “It’s a reminder of Steele’s predicament: He knows how badly these attacks are damaging the party and how neatly they play into the hands of Dems, but he can’t call out the leading figures launching those attacks, because that risks infuriating the base and feeding the meme that the GOP is hopelessly divided.” [Plum Line, 5/29/2009] Two weeks before, while hosting Bennett’s show, Steele had attacked Sotomayor’s intellect and personality, calling her “not a bell ringer” and “abrasive.” [Think Progress, 5/29/2009] A week later, while hosting Bennett’s show, Steele will say, “God help you if you’re a white male coming before her bench” (see June 5, 2009).

Entity Tags: Republican Party, Sonia Sotomayor, MSNBC, Greg Sargent, US Supreme Court, Michael Steele

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Former George H. W. Bush speechwriter Peggy Noonan joins the ranks of Republicans (see May 28-31, 2009, May 29, 2009, and May 29, 2009) asking for a more moderate and less inflammatory tone in recent criticisms of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009 and May 26, 2009). Republicans should “play grown-up,” she advises, in opposing the Sotomayor nomination, and notes that her background—disadvantaged, Hispanic, female—makes her dangerous to oppose too vehemently: “Politically she’s like a beautiful doll containing a canister of poison gas: Break her and you die.” Noonan continues: “New York is proud of her; I’m proud of our country and grateful at its insistence, in a time when some say the American dream is dead, that it most certainly is not. The dream is: You can come from any place or condition, any walk of life, and rise to the top, taking your people with you, in your heart and theirs. Maybe that’s what they mean by empathy: Where you come from enters you, and you bring it with you as you rise. But if that’s what they mean, then we’re all empathetic. We’re the most fluid society in human history, but no one ever leaves their zip code in America, we all take it with us. It’s part of our pride. And it’s not bad, it’s good.” Noonan calls Republicans who launch virulent attacks on her racial heritage or gender “idiots,” and writes that instead of “exciting the base,” as one Republican strategist has said the attacks will do, “How about excit[ing] a moderate, or interest[ing] an independent? How about gain[ing] the attention of people who aren’t already on your side? The base is plenty excited already, as you know if you’ve ever read a comment thread on a conservative blog.… They don’t need to be revved, they’re already revved. Newt Gingrich twitters that Judge Sotomayor is a racist (see May 27, 2009). Does anyone believe that? He should rest his dancing thumbs, stop trying to position himself as the choice and voice of the base in 2012, and think.… The choice for Republicans isn’t between ‘attack’ and ‘roll over.’ It’s broader than that, and more interesting. There’s a new and fresh opportunity here for Republicans in the Senate to be serious, and, in their seriousness, to be seen and understood in a new light.” [Wall Street Journal, 6/1/2009]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Newt Gingrich, Sonia Sotomayor, Peggy Noonan

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Republican lawmakers have moved to tone down the incendiary rhetoric surrounding the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court (see May 26, 2009). Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says he is happy that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA—see June 3, 2009) and others (see May 28-31, 2009, May 29, 2009, May 29, 2009, and June 1, 2009) are backing away from the accusations of racism and liberal activism that have marked conservative responses to Sotomayor’s nomination (see May 26, 2009). “I think she deserves to be challenged,” Graham says. “It is fair to make her address that question and prove it. It is not fair to say that she’s a racist.” Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) says his fellow Republicans “shouldn’t jump to conclusions, particularly with, you know, overheated rhetoric.” Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler says Gingrich made his own decision to tone down his rhetoric, and was not asked by other Republicans to do so. Gingrich hopes to “reset the argument,” Tyler says, but notes that “nothing has changed in the structure of his argument, he is just retracting the word racist.” Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh says that the attacks on Sotomayor should continue, and says he doesn’t know why Gingrich is backing off. “I didn’t know why he had retracted it, and I still don’t,” he says. “I have my own theory about what Newt’s doing, but since I’m not doing it, I’m not going to comment.” Curt Levey of the conservative legal group Committee for Justice says: “The fact that the most extreme voices have softened I think is good. It’s good. We have to keep the debate civil. Republican senators should be keeping an open mind.… Calling her a racist was a racially insensitive remark. Frankly all we can do at this point is raise questions about her.” Levey has called Sotomayor an intellectual “lightweight” (see May 26, 2009). [Politico, 6/4/2009] Concurrently with the Republican lawmakers’ public statements towards moderating the attacks on Sotomayor, an aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Lanier Swann, advises conservative activists to keep up their pressure on Sotomayor. The aide gives the advice during a weekly meeting of influential conservative activists, radio hosts, and others hosted by veteran Washington activist Grover Norquist. “Swann told us she wanted to encourage all of us in our talking points and that we’re having traction among Republicans and unnerving Democrats,” says one attendee. “The point was we should keep it up. She told us at this meeting to put our foot on the pedal.” A second attendee confirms the account. A spokesman for McConnell says he is sure Swann did not call for further attacks. [The Hill, 6/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, Lanier Swann, Grover Norquist, Curt Levey, Lindsey Graham, Rick Tyler, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch McConnell, Sonia Sotomayor, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele implies that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) has racist tendencies, a week after urging fellow Republicans to stop “slammin’ and rammin’” Sotomayor over the issue of race and deal with her nomination on the issues (see May 29, 2009). While guest-hosting William Bennett’s radio show, Steele discusses criticisms that have been made of Sotomayor. “[T]he comments that she made that have been played up about, you know, the Latina woman being a better judge than the white male is something that she has said on numerous occasions,” Steele tells a caller (see October 26, 2001). “So this was not just the one and only time it was said. They’ve now found other evidences and other speeches… that she has made mention of this, this fact that her ethnicity, that her cultural background puts her in a different position as a judge to judge your case.… And God help you if you’re a white male coming before her bench.” A recent analysis of Sotomayor’s decisions as a judge in race-based cases proves that she does not discriminate against white plaintiffs (see May 29, 2009). [Think Progress, 6/5/2009] Four days later, Steele will defend his remarks. “Well, that’s not inflammatory,” he tells a CNN audience. “It’s based off of what—the inference that she left and what she said. You know, if you have a judge, where you have a situation where you have—you’re going before a trier of fact, and the trier of fact is on record as saying that this individual’s background experience is better positioned to make a decision than someone else, that gives one pause. And so my view of it was, in looking at it, you’re now segregating out white men by your comments. So, God help you if you’re a white male. If you’re seeking justice, this may not be the bench you want to go before.” [Think Progress, 6/10/2009]

Entity Tags: Republican National Committee, US Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, Michael Steele

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Melissa Harris-Lacewell.Melissa Harris-Lacewell. [Source: Melissa Harris-Lacewell]Melissa Harris-Lacewell, professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton, attempts to explain the increasingly overt and virulent racism being promulgated by some conservative lawmakers, talk show hosts, and anti-health care protesters (see February 1, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, August 4, 2008, August 19, 2008, November 18, 2008, February 24-26, 2009, April 7-8, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 25, 2009, and July 28, 2009). “[A]s a political scientist, you always want to start with the assumption that a political party, whatever choices it’s making are trying to seek office,” she says. She says one must assume that the racist rhetoric “is somehow a strategy of the right or strategy of an element of the GOP to somehow gain office either in the mid-term elections or more long term for the presidential race.” However, that is not the entirety of the reasons behind the rhetoric: “[T]he other part, I think, that I have maybe not been thinking about as carefully is that when we think about the history of race in America, sometimes we have to put aside the notion of strategy and just embrace the reality that race in this country has often brought out irrational anger, fear, anxiety, emotionalism. So it is possible that this is not actually a GOP or a conservative strategy but is instead really kind of an emotional tantrum on the part of some members of the conservative wing who really just are floundering as they look at a world that is changing so dramatically around questions of race.” MSNBC host Rachel Maddow expands on Harris-Lacewell’s point, saying: “I was with you on it being an irrational tantrum until I started to see the same very specific tactic used in very different venues about very different subjects, this idea of the person who is not white being the problem racist, being used against [Supreme Court nominee Sonia] Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 29, 2009, May 29, 2009, June 5, 2009, and June 12, 2009)… being used against the president now, inexplicably, unrelated to any policy issue but just as a free floating critique of the president. And it does make me wonder about this as an overt political strategy.” Harris-Lacewell replies: “President Obama paused in the middle of the primary race to speak in Philadelphia about the question of race in America. And he set up sort of two possibilities, black anger rooted in a history of African-American inequality and white resentment rooted in a sense of kind of a loss of racial privilege. Now, I think in many ways it’s a very accurate assessment of sort of the ways that blacks and whites, not completely and not perfectly, but often perceive things quite differently. So I spent the month in New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina is a perfect example of this. Everybody in the country was mad but African-Americans saw the failures of the federal government around Katrina as a race issue. White Americans who were still angry about the failures of the government saw it primarily as a bureaucratic issue rather than a race issue. So here, you have these two groups with very different perspectives. Now, that made all the difference in being able to make policy. So I think that they’re hoping that these differences in how blacks and whites often see the world can be a perfect kind of wedge to use on health care, to use on education, to use on a wide variety of issues that, in fact, really—if we don’t fix health care, it is bad for all Americans. But if we can somehow kind of suggest that the president is just trying to do things that are good for black people and bad for white people, then it opens up that kind of possibility of anxiety, distrust, and different perceptions.” [MSNBC, 7/30/2009]

Entity Tags: Rachel Maddow, Melissa Harris-Perry

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

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