Post Politics: Sotomayor, Abortion, More

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Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 29, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post White House reporter Michael A. Fletcher was online Friday, May 29 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, the administration's response to North Korea and all the latest political news.

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Michael A. Fletcher: Good morning. Let's get started.

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Rockville, Md.: All this griping from the pro-choice groups about Sotomayor's lack of record on abortion is clearly a set up. It's just a political ploy to help President Obama out.

Michael A. Fletcher: Think so? I'm not so sure about that, even if one could argue that the White House does not mind the uncertainty surrounding her views on abortion. I think it has a way of defusing any charge that Sotomayor is some kind of extreme liberal. While the White House says the president is confident she is pro-choice, there is little in her record that speaks to the issue one way or the other.

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Woodbridge, Va.: Seems to me California should be more concerned about its budgetary mess than about gay marriage...

Michael A. Fletcher: The budget sure seems like the bigger problem, doesn't it?

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Miranda rights and abortion stance: Can anything the administration says to pro-choice groups assuring them that Sotomayor agrees with Obama's pro-choice Constitutional rights view be used against them/her by Republicans? How is it that Obama is sure about this topic?

Michael A. Fletcher: That is the question of the day. The White House is not saying. Officials insist that neither the president or his aides asked her about the issue. And there is little in her voluminous judicial record about the subject. But, it seems to me, that leaves very little for Republicans to work with. Of course they expect the president to appoint a pro-choice justice. But remember: justices sometimes surprise the presidents who appoint them. One need look no further than the retiring justice, David Souter. He was advertised as a silent conservative when he was appointed by the the first President Bush, but he ended up the court's liberal wing.

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Oakland, Calif.: I find all these endless references to Judge Sotomayor's ethnicity and whether "it matters" frustrating. Can you explain why only white men are entitled to the presumption that their nomination was mainly due to their qualifications and not their race or gender? Surely over the scope of American history, no group has benefited as much from "affirmative action" as much as white men. But somehow when a Latina woman is nominated, all of the media talking heads conclude that it was "due to her race." Isn't it possible that Ms. Sotomayor was simply the best qualified person available for the position at this time, in the President's judgment?

Michael A. Fletcher: That certainly is possible. But this is complicated because part of what distinguishes Judge Sotomayor, beyond her sterling academic credentials and deep legal experience, is the fact that she is a Latina who, yes, grew up in public housing with a mom who was widowed young. The White House is pushing that fact, as are supporters of her nomination. Plus she would make history as the first Latina on the court. Which is perfectly cool. This is a celebration of the American Dream. All nominees seek to be humanized. People connect to that. I was talking to an old Washington hand yesterday who reminded me that when Bob Gates, the current defense secretary, was nominated to be CIA director years ago, he was seen as kind of a faceless, unfeeling bureaucrat. But when he testified he was sure to tell the world about when he moved to D.C. for the first time with all of his worldly possessions packed in the back seat of his Mustang convertible. That helped reframe him.

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Washington, D.C.: Any chance that the Republicans will take Charles Krauthammer's suggestion that they call Frank Ricci, the dyslexic New Haven firefighter who worked so hard to get his promotion, as a witness during the Sotomayor confirmation hearing? It certainly would put a face to the President's "empathy" claim.

Michael A. Fletcher: Don't know. That would be interesting theater.

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Alexandria, Va.: Alito said in his confirmation hearings (I'm paraphrasing) that being the child of recent immigrants helped him make decisions as a judge. Additionally, Pres. G.H.W. Bush praised Clarence Thomas for his "empathy" when he announced his nomination. Any chance that this record will quiet the protests of those in the GOP who see these same attributes as a problem for Sotomayor's nomination? I'm not holding my breath.

Michael A. Fletcher: I think, in the end, much of this will go away, barring any unforseen disclosures. Because, as you note, both sides use the same tactics. "Empathy" may not be a strict legal requirement but it sure seems to resonate with everyday Americans.

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Washington, D.C.: What's your sense of whether a national sales tax will be seriously considered either by Congress or the White House as a way to reduce the huge deficit we're facing?

Michael A. Fletcher: My sense is that it is a total non-starter. There is just too much of a political consensus against taxation and for tax cuts, even in the face of huge deficits. I think things would have to turn much more dire before that is even seriously considered.

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Menomonie, Wisc.:

A friend told me that John Cornyn has called some of Newt's and Rush's comments on Judge Sotomayor inappropiate. Is this true? If so, I am amazed. When a far right-winger likes Cornyn calls Rush's and Newt's comments inappropiate, it shows how out of the mainstream Rush and Newt have become.

Thank you.

washingtonpost.com: Politico: Cornyn's rebuke

Michael A. Fletcher: That is true. What it illustrates, I think, is the political bind the Republicans find themselves in. On the one hand, they need to grow their party and renew their appeal to moderates and minorities. Yet, their core base seems focused on things that seem to turn off many moderates and minorities.

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Washington, D.C.: So the current VP, Joe Bidden, can say about Clarence THomas "I think the only reason he got confirmed is he is black," and Republicans aren't allowed to ask tough questions?

What about the filibuster of Miguel Estrada, another qualified Latino who was discriminated against because he is conservative.

Democrats claim to be for diversity...but only on their terms and with people who share their opinions.

Michael A. Fletcher: I'm not sure that anyone would deny the right of senators to ask tough questions. I get your point about how politicized court appointments have become. It used to be just the high court but senators have taken to trying to knock of appeals court nominees who are perceived as likely candidates for elevation to the high court. Both sides screen for ideology. Such was the case with Estrada. And Sotomayor suffered for this too when she was appointed to the appeals court. Her confirmation received relatively little Republican support, mainly for political reasons.

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Cross purposes with Oakland: Michael, I think you're misunderstanding Oakland's point. Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, her record is stellar, yet questions are being raised about her intelligence, her diligence, her temper, etc., that would not be raised if she were a white man. No one ever questioned Samuel Alito's intelligence when he was nominated, even though they have similar working-class backgrounds, etc. And though a couple of current Justices have notable tempers, that never was raised as an issue as it is with her.

Michael A. Fletcher: Reading fast here...Many people agree with that analysis. People I've talked to say the White House looked into some of those allegations before the nomination and waved them off, saying they had no merit and were being made, as you say, because of Sotomayor's race and gender.

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College Park, Md.: I am in my mid-30s and can't for the life of me remember a time when members of the previous presidential administration have been so outspoken about the current presidential administration. What gives? Hate being criticized? Think Obama is taking the wrong path? Trying to cement a positive view for the history books?

Michael A. Fletcher: I think it some of all three. Most interesting has been Vice President Cheney, whose critique takes in not just Obama's first few months in office, but also most of President Bush's second term. Often overlooked is how much policy shifted during Bush's final years in office, and Cheney seems to disagree with that change. Also, I think the previous administration believes that the country now takes for granted that we have not had any terrorist attacks since 9/11. They see that as a signature achievement and I think they genuinely believe that their policies, some of which are now being criticized, had a lot to do with that.

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Religion: I have read in several articles that Sonia Sotomayor is Catholic. Is this true? I understand that she was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school but not of the articles mentions what church she currently attends. In my mind there is an enormous difference between someone who has been raised Catholic and stopped practicing and someone who is a practicing Catholic. I realize (my parents are both former Catholics) that the Church considers people to be Catholic once Baptized and Confirmed. Is this the standard once a Catholic always a Catholic.

Michael A. Fletcher: All I know is that she was raised Catholic and when to Cardinal Spellman, a well known Catholic school in New York. I've yet to hear the White House say flatly that she remains a practicing Catholic.

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Another False Talking Point...: Even the mainstream media has bought into it. There have been claims that Judge Sotomayor is a child of immigrants. Though it should not really matter, she is not. Her parents were born in Puerto Rico, which has been a U.S. territory since 1917. All Puerto Ricans are United States citizens.

Michael A. Fletcher: Indeed. It is a common mistake.

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Criticism by Previous Administration: It's also worth mentioning that the current administration, since the inauguration, has been emphatic in its comments that the previous administration did so much wrong, which is also rare.

Michael A. Fletcher: Fair point.

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Prescott, Ariz.: Miguel Estrada was not "discriminated against because he was conservative." He had a thin- esume (e.g. had never been a judge at any level) and the Bush Administration would not release ANY of the prior writing he had done for them as an employee.

He was "discriminated" against because the Bush Administration wasn't willing to provide information proving he was qualified.

Michael A. Fletcher: Estrada did have experience as a federal proscutor and working in the solicitor general's office. So his experience certainly matched that of at least some members of the appeals court. But his confirmation was filibustered--I think it's fair to say--to block him from being in position for a Supreme Court slot.

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Michael A. Fletcher: Gotta run. Thanks for the great questions.

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