NEAL CONAN, Host:
This morning in the East Room of the White House, President Obama formally announced Judge Sotomayor as his choice to replace Justice David Souter on the United States Supreme Court.
BARACK OBAMA: I have decided to nominate an inspiring woman who I believe will make a great justice, Judge Sonia Sotomayor...
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OBAMA: ...of the great state of New York.
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SONIA SOTOMAYOR: Thank you, Mr. President, for the most humbling honor of my life. You have nominated me to serve on the country's highest court, and I am deeply moved.
CONAN: If confirmed, Judge Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic to sit on the high court and its third woman. We're going to hear reaction to this nomination from writer Ruben Navarrette, a supporter, and a conservative activist, Richard Viguerie, a critic. But if you'd like to talk with them about what this will mean about the future of the high court or the politics of the nomination, give us a call - 800-989-8255. Email us email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our Web site; that's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.
We begin with syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, also a regular commentator for NPR's TELL ME MORE with Michel Martin. And he joins us today from the studios of member station KPBS in San Diego. Nice to have you with us.
RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Good to be back with you, Neal.
CONAN: And I understand you were writing a column just this morning about why the pick would not be Sonia Sotomayor?
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NAVARRETTE: Neal, that's right. So good of you to bring that up. Thank you, I appreciate that.
CONAN: Changing your lead.
NAVARRETTE: Yes, that's right. I changed the whole column on the fly. I had written a column for CNN.com last week saying that I thought that all the mention of Latinos was purely window dressing. So much of the positive press coming out of the East Coast media was centered around two other candidates, Elena Kagan and Diane Wood. And I thought either of them might be the choice. And then there was President Obama's comments that demographics weren't really so important to him.
He was just going to choose the best person for the job. And I thought all these things were lining up to sort of against - to go against Sotomayor as a pick. And you obviously could have knocked me with a feather when it happened. I was wrong. You don't hear columnist say that very often. I was wrong. And I was happy to be proven wrong.
CONAN: And your reaction, obviously you're very happy.
NAVARRETTE: Oh, absolutely. I mean, one of the things you have to understand about me. I've been a critic of racial preferences in the past because - from the conservative side of the fence. Because I think often times when you're too aggressive in the application of diversity as a measure, you let in unqualified people, and do harm to the very people you try to help. Sotomayor, Sonia Sotomayor is anything but unqualified.
I mean, here you have magna cum laude from Princeton, Yale Law School, 17 years of experience on the federal bench, appointed by a Republican, advanced by a Democrat. What more do people want? I mean, this - these kinds of biographies don't come along very often, as the president knows. He owns one of them himself. So I think it's a very, very good choice.
CONAN: And also the president, when he mentioned that inspiring word, he was talking, I think, just as much about her personal story as he was about her legal experience.
NAVARRETTE: Absolutely. They have something in common. Both of them were raised without fathers. Her father died when she was very young. She was raised primarily by her mother, who was, you know, there obviously in a very touching moment, recognized at the ceremony. And I think that from all accounts, what really sealed it for Sotomayor was the interview. She asked for, requested an interview from the president directly, and apparently, according to reports, he was blown away by just how compelling a story this is.
And we really have gotten to a point where if you want to take the position that there should not be an Hispanic on the Supreme Court, period, ever, then I guess that's a legitimate position you can take. But if you're going to choose a Hispanic for the court, why not choose someone who's got the goods, who is absolutely well qualified, who has these superb credentials. I don't know how he found it, but he found her. It's a heck of a choice.
CONAN: I think the way your frame that argument is called putting up a straw man, because I don't think anybody's going to take that first position. But anyway, let's bring Richard Viguerie into the conversation. He's a conservative activist and writes the blog conservativehq.com. And with us from his office in Manassas, and nice to speak with you again.
RICHARD VIGUERIE: Good to be with you again, Neal and Ruben.
CONAN: And what's your reaction to the nomination today?
VIGUERIE: Well, you know, I've very mixed feelings because I'm frightened, as all right-thinking Americans should be, the fact that we have somebody who's so radical left, and as you said, Ruben set up a straw person, this - saying that it's possibly a reasonable position to say that no Hispanic should be on the Supreme Court. I mean that's outrageous. But Democrats seem to have taken that position, Neal, over the years when they filibustered people like Miguel Estrada, to keep him off the court because they certainly didn't want him on the Supreme Court, or Janice Rogers Brown, African-American, to keep her off the court.
So - but anyway, conservatives welcome this ideological debate. It's the first time, Neal, that we've had a ideological debate in America probably since the early Clinton years, 1993, '94 on taxes, on welfare, health care. So, almost never do conservatives lose ideological battles. Now, we might lose on the short run, as we did on the Panama Canal. But within two years, 21 senators that voted with Jimmy Carter had lost the election. And the only time conservatives lose is if we don't engage in a ideological battle. And this is almost a heaven-sent opportunity for Americans, conservatives to engage in a teaching opportunity with Americans about the role of the judiciary.
CONAN: And what convinces you that Judge Sotomayor is, as you describe her, radically to the left?
VIGUERIE: Well, I'll just read you one sentence that she said herself. She said, I would hope that a wise Latina Hispanic 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. My gosh. What happened to the idea that justice is suppose to be blind? Almost in every court in America we have the statue of justice there with the scales and has a blindfold over her eyes because justice is supposed to be blind.
And there's a saying written over the Supreme Court, we are a nation of laws not of men. And the idea that you take into consideration the status of the defendant instead of what the law is is a radical, frightening position.
CONAN: And one other thing, will you be urging members of the - conservatives in the United States Senate to filibuster this nomination?
VIGUERIE: Well, I don't know if that's appropriate. We'll have to wait and see. It's very, very early. We're only into this a few hours here. But the main thing that conservatives are going to be doing, Neal, is engage in a massive educational, you know, teaching opportunity here with Americans using what is available to us which is basically the new and alternative media, direct mail, talk radio, cable television, the Internet, YouTube.
We're going to - you know, it's going to be an unusual person in American in the next couple of months who won't have heard the conservative position on this nomination through the new and alternative media.
CONAN: And Ruben Navarrette, we're going to all hear a great deal about Sonia Sotomayor over the next few months.
NAVARRETTE: Absolutely. And some of it will be based on fact and some of it will be based on demagoguery. And that isn't altogether different than as pointed out, that's what happened to Miguel Estrada. Miguel Estrada is a friend of mine, someone who I defended in print. You can run my name through Google and his, and you'll see for yourself. Absolutely, I think the Democrats made a mistake in going at someone in him who was so incredibly qualified but sort of creating out of whole cloth this opposition that he wasn't Hispanic enough.
And likewise, I think that there's a lesson here for Republicans. I really do hope Republicans stick to their guns and oppose Sotomayor because that's the way the process works. I wouldn't expect for her to walk off with a hundred votes in the Senate. But I really hope that, for their own good and for the good of the two-party system in America, that they not make the mistake that the Democrats made in going after Miguel Estrada doing it in such as blatant way where unfortunately leaves a bad taste to the mouths of male Latinos.
I've written before many, many times and I - to the consternation of some my liberal friends that I think you ought to be able to split these votes. And the Latinos should put their votes all over the board and not be taken for granted by one party or written off by another.
I'm afraid that if conservatives go after Sotomayor in a way that is perceived as unfair, for instance accusing her of being judicial activist when I can point to any number of people including some who sit on the Supreme Court who are likewise judicial activists, then they'll be doing themselves a lot of harm and ultimately doing the Latinos a lot of harm as well, so.
CONAN: Richard Viguerie...
VIGUERIE: I disagree...
CONAN: Go ahead.
VIGUERIE: Go ahead.
CONAN: No. I was just going to ask...
VIGUERIE: I couldn't disagree more because to say it's unfair to accuse her of being a judicial activist, she is a notorious judicial activist. And why are Hispanics off limits that we can't - a liberal left wing Hispanic, it would be unfair to point out that she doesn't follow the Constitution but that she follows her own ideology? For example, in the firefighters ruling here recently in Connecticut. I mean, where she just said, let's throw out all the tests and ignore the whites who got higher scores and let's go down there and engage in affirmative action.
I mean, that's not unfair. That's what America should be about, discussing these issues. And America needs to know that there are people out there like Obama and this nominee who feel that ideology outweighs the US Constitution.
CONAN: Well, let's get to the...
NAVARRETTE: Well, you're right about - I'm sorry.
CONAN: A quick response, then we'll get listeners in on the conversation.
NAVARRETTE: Well, he's right about that. Obama is in fact a liberal, as well. During the Bush administration, I wrote editorials and columns saying that, you know, elections have consequences. Bush should pick a conservative. Now, Obama should pick a liberal. It's the way it goes.
CONAN: All right. Let's get some callers in. 800-9898-255, e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. Our guests again are Ruben Navarrette, who is a nationally syndicated columnist, and Richard Viguerie, a well-known conservative activist and the father of direct mail. And let's get Travis on the line. Travis calling us from Louisville, Kentucky.
TRAVIS: Yes, yes. Well, let me just say, in terms of the Fourth Amendment, our civil liberties, it's been the liberals who have been strictly interpreting that and it's been the conservatives who have been the activists. Whether it's the war on drugs or the war on terror, they use that to trump the Fourth Amendment. Even Tony Blankley admits - even Tony Blankley said...
CONAN: Conservative columnist.
TRAVIS: Yes. That he felt like maybe we need to nullify the Fourth Amendment. And let me just say this, I think Ms. Sotomayor and even Justice Kennedy is fairly strong in the Fourth Amendment for a conservative. These five, I think, will continue to go against these - see, I'm hearing conservatives talk less government, talk strict constructionism. They're not strict constructionists. They're not strictly interpreting the Fourth Amendment at least. And I think Ms. Sotomayor will be strong on the Fourth Amendment, will stand up for our civil liberties. And as a strong proponent of the Fourth Amendment - that's what I'm watching her on - she - if you want to call her a strict constructionist when it comes to the Fourth Amendment, she is.
CONAN: And just to remind listeners, that's - that bars unreasonable searchers and seizures.
TRAVIS: Absolutely. And I'm hearing Mr. Viguerie that, you know, your guys were in power and we've seen you favor heavy executive power, you favor massive, you know, all sorts of invasions on my Fourth Amendment freedom. So, sir, I mean, I - we hear the conservative rhetoric about less government, about following the law, about strict constructionism but, you know, Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Roberts are interpreting the Fourth Amendment in a much more of an activist sense.
CONAN: Let's get a quick response from Richard Viguerie.
TRAVIS: Thank you.
VIGUERIE: Yes, caller, you've made the mistake, I think, that a lot of people make these days unfortunately in confusing conservatives with Republican. You're right that this recent Bush administration and Republican Congress did violate our Fourth Amendment rights far too many times.
In fact, with Bruce Fein, a Reagan administration Justice Department attorney, and myself and Ron Paul and some others, we helped form something called Freedom Agenda. And we're very concerned about the abuses of civil rights by this recent administration, Republican Congress. So just like people get confused with what happened in the Republican Congress and think conservatives are responsible for that, many times, it was Republican politicians but not conservatives.
TRAVIS: But sir...
NAVARRETTE: Neal, if I may.
CONAN: Travis, we...
TRAVIS: ...(unintelligible) and Thomas who are ruling with Bush.
CONAN: I think that the...
TRAVIS: Okay. Thank you, sir. Thank you.
CONAN: Okay. We have to leave this - and we're talking about the appointment today, the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And Ruben Navarrette, I didn't mean to cut you off.
NAVARRETTE: Not at all. Let me get in on this as well. The caller makes an excellent point. And here - it really is - the hottest issue out there today isn't abortion, isn't affirmative action, it's the role of the Executive and how much power the Executive should have in the war on terror. It's something that we wrote about and said a lot about when John Roberts came up for discussion. And I'll tell you what, sometimes people say it's judicial activism when they disagree with the outcome. They say it's good judging when they agree with the outcome.
The best example is on Roe v. Wade. It was clear that Roe v. Wade when it was decided was an act of judicial activism. If one day it is overturned, that likewise will be judicial activism, it'll just be going in the opposite direction. So I'm against naivete, I'm against dishonesty and this notion that somehow, oh, my goodness, judicial activism, I've never seen that before. That's nonsense.
All sorts of judges push agendas in different directions. They make the laws sort of go in the direction they want it to go to. That's why you have judges in the first place, otherwise you'd replace everybody with computers and be done with it.
CONAN: All right. Let's get Emily(ph) on the line. Emily, with us from Augusta, Georgia.
CONAN: Hi, Emily.
EMILY: I think this nomination is a great thing. I'm a Democrat. I feel that she's finally going to bring some balance to our court.
CONAN: Balance politically?
EMILY: I think that with Scalia, you know, when they nominated Scalia that we went so far right. I mean, it was already leaning right. And now, maybe this is going to bring it back to the middle. Of course, I would like it more left but - and the bottom line is, I'm already seeing so many conservatives, Republicans, they're mad about, oh well, it's racism. It's just because she's Hispanic. The woman is qualified. It's - you can see and look up on the news and anywhere, she knows what she's doing. Now, if Obama had nominated a white male, again, racism on their side.
So I think that no matter what, that the conservative, the right side is going to say - they're not going to be happy. But this woman is qualified and I'm pleased with it.
CONAN: Richard Viguerie, do you accept 17 years on the federal bench, a graduate of Princeton, at the head of her class, Yale Law School that she's...
VIGUERIE: You know, she...
VIGUERIE: ...she certainly, Neal, has immense legal qualifications. But simply because you are an expert and know the law front and backwards, et cetera, that doesn't mean you have the right interpretation of the law. And that's our disagreement here. It's not that she doesn't know the law and is not qualified from the legal standpoint. The issue is, what are her views and her values? And her views and values are that once she takes her hand off of the Bible to uphold the U.S. Constitution, all bets are off.
Now she goes into her own judgment. And that's one of the problems that gives - caused a lot of our problems in America here in the last 50 years. We've got a judiciary, you know, that's just wants to make laws. If a judge wants to make laws, they should run for the legislature, they should run for the House or Senate, the state legislature. That's where the laws are made. They should not be made from the bench.
And we just really are excited about the opportunity to take this battle to the American people and educate them about Obama and the Democrats in Congress and their views and values on the U.S. Constitution. And by the way, the Republicans did not do a job at all in '07, '08 and '09 of defining Obama. And this is an immense opportunity to define President Obama.
CONAN: Emily, thanks very much for the call. And I'm afraid we're out of time, though obviously this discussion is going to continue for the next several months as the nomination comes up for hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And well, we may possibly be talking about it in this program too. I'd like to thank our guests. Ruben Navarrette, appreciate your time today.
NAVARRETTE: Thank you.
CONAN: Ruben Navarrette, the syndicated columnist for the San Diego Union- Tribune, also a regular commentator for NPR's TELL ME MORE with Michel Martin, with us today from KTBS in San Diego. Richard Viguerie, thank you as always.
VIGUERIE: Pleasure, Neal. And before this battle is over with, we're going to bring Ruben on board here for the conservative position.
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CONAN: Richard Viguerie writes the blog conservativehq.com and with us today from his office in Manassas, Virginia. Stay tuned to NPR News later today for more on this issue.
I'm Neal CONAN, and this is TALK OF THE NATION.