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Context of 'June 1, 2009: Former Bush Speechwriter Advises Republicans to ‘Play Grown-Up’ in Challenging Supreme Court Nominee'

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Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor during the nomination announcement.Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor during the nomination announcement. [Source: Associated Press]President Obama nominates Second Circuit Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his candidate to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter (see May 1, 2009). Sotomayor is a Hispanic woman from an underprivileged background with a stellar academic record and an extensive legal background, having served as a prosecutor, a corporate lawyer, and a judge for 17 years, having been first appointed to the bench by former President George H. W. Bush. She is expected to receive heavy support from Democrats. Republicans say they are waiting for more information to decide whether to mount organized opposition. Political observers say such a move would be chancy for Republicans, who need to attract more support from Hispanic and female voters. Obama calls Sotomayor a judge with an impressive intellect and a great capacity for empathy, and a jurist who renders judgments with “an understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live.” He notes that Sotomayor has more legal experience than any currently sitting justice had when they ascended to the high court. Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the Court. Sotomayor is considered more or less ideologically consistent with the moderate-to-liberal Souter, and thus would not change the court’s ideological makeup. The Obama administration says it wants Sotomayor approved in time for the Court’s October session. In her acceptance speech, Sotomayor says of herself, “I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences.” Of her position as a jurist, she says she is driven first and foremost by the rule of law and the principles laid down in the Constitution. “Those principles,” she says, “are as meaningful and relevant in each generation as the generation before.” Sotomayor was chosen over three other short-listed finalists: fellow appellate court judge Diane Wood, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. It is likely that one or more of the people on the list may become nominated to the court as well: Justice John Paul Stevens is 89 years old, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 76, suffers from pancreatic cancer. [Associated Press, 5/26/2009; CNN, 5/26/2009] In response to the nomination, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele says: “Republicans look forward to learning more about… Sotomayor’s thoughts on the importance of the Supreme Court’s fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law. Supreme Court vacancies are rare, which makes Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination a perfect opportunity for America to have a thoughtful discussion about the role of the Supreme Court in our daily lives. Republicans will reserve judgment on Sonia Sotomayor until there has been a thorough and thoughtful examination of her legal views.” [Think Progress, 5/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Elena Kagan, Barack Obama, Diane T. Wood, Sonia Sotomayor, Michael Steele, David Souter, US Supreme Court, Janet Napolitano

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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

John Cornyn (R-TX), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he is “troubled” by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) in light of her supposed “judicial activism” (see May 26, 2009) and supposed willingness to put her personal background above her dedication to the rule of law (see October 26, 2001). However, Cornyn repudiates some of the more vicious attacks on Sotomayor from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former House Republican Tom Tancredo, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, and others who have termed her “racist” (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, and May 28, 2009). “I think it’s terrible. This is not the kind of tone that any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advice and consent,” Cornyn says. Of Gingrich and Limbaugh, Cornyn adds: “Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials. I just don’t think it’s appropriate and I certainly don’t endorse it. I think it’s wrong.” [National Public Radio, 5/28/2009; Politico, 5/28/2009] The next day, Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the committee, says the inflammatory rhetoric from right-wingers such as Limbaugh, Tancredo, and Gingrich makes him “uneasy,” and he advises Republicans to limit their criticisms of Sotomayor to her judicial record. “I don’t think that’s good rhetoric,” says Sessions. “The question is, has the judge gone too far or not, given the established law of the land?” The Washington Post notes that in 1986, Sessions was denied a federal judgeship because of his record of racial insensitivity (see June 5, 2009). Neither Sessions nor the Post mentions Sessions’s recent attack on Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009). [Washington Post, 5/29/2009] On May 31, Sessions tells an NBC audience that his Republican colleagues should refrain from calling Sotomayor a racist, and he would prefer that they not continue to attack her over her 2001 remarks. [Associated Press, 5/31/2009]

Entity Tags: Tom Tancredo, Newt Gingrich, John Cornyn, Jeff Sessions, Rush Limbaugh, Sonia Sotomayor, US Supreme Court, Senate Judiciary Committee

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

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