Sotomayor Nomination Tops Week's Political News President Obama made a big decision this week, and it wasn't what kind of mustard to order on his burger. He nominated U.S. Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court — and already the "race" word is flying..
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Sotomayor Nomination Tops Week's Political News

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Sotomayor Nomination Tops Week's Political News

Sotomayor Nomination Tops Week's Political News

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This WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Any Supreme Court nomination makes history. President Obama made a little more when he nominated U.S. Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina to be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. NPR's Juan Williams joins us now. We'll hear from Nina Totenberg in a moment.

Juan, thanks very much for being with us this morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And given the solid Democratic majority in the Senate, barring the unforeseen, any doubt about the final outcome?

WILLIAMS: No, I think we have - you could say it's strongly in favor of President Obama's nominee, and the Democrats, given their numbers in the Senate, that she will be confirmed. But you know, there is an explosive issue lurking out there and that's affirmation action.

SIMON: Yeah. As reflected in one decision about firefighters. But I want to, yeah, let me dabble our toe into the question that's been raised about race, because questions have been raised about an appearance that Judge Sotomayor made at the University of California, Berkeley Law School. And I'm going to take the sentence that has been in a sense isolated from there, and just this morning the Obama administration's indicated that she regrets the choice of words, they think it was a poor choice of words. But I'm going to calculatedly reverse that famous sentence now. And I'm going to ask you, what would happen if a white male judge said, quote, "I would hope that a wise white man with the richness of his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina woman who hasn't lived that life."

WILLIAMS: Well, I'd say, Judge Simon, what are you talking about? I mean, come again. You know, President Obama tried to walk back the words, and of course what you did was play off of what Judge Sotomayor had to say in that 2001 speech at Berkeley Law School. But what President Obama said was that you have to keep in mind that she was struggling to grow up as a young Puerto Rican woman in the South Bronx and that that's a very different experience than highly educated upper class white men who dominate the nation's judiciary.

So President Obama said she was trying to bring something different to the experience of being a judge. But it's not a matter that she would bring bias, just that there would be added value. So that's a generous, more open-minded interpretation of what Judge Sotomayor was trying to say. But on the face of it, Scott, you have to say that her language - and if you took it for what it was worth - was racist.

SIMON: Is this going to affect the Republican counter-argument? What kind of cards do they hold now?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know this whole business about her being a racist and all that - Senator Hatch has said it's premature to say that. You've got to give her some time. Senator Cornyn of Texas said the ideal Supreme Court justice should be color blind. But in a country that's one third minority and growing, Scott, you've got to wonder now, and this is the argument that I think the Republicans will push...

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

WILLIAMS: ...are we getting into Balkanizing the Supreme Court? One seat for a Latino, one seat for a black person, one seat or maybe several seats for women? Is that the way to go? Or should we be looking for the very best people? Now, this argument wasn't raised when you had all white men, but now that's the question, and I think that many people, if it's an affirmative action argument, could view Judge Sotomayor negatively.

SIMON: God bless: Chicago politics is back in the news with the revelation of a transcript of conversations between now-Senator Roland Burris and Robert Blagojevich, the brother of the former governor of Illinois. Is this going to increase pressure on the Democratic majority in the Senate to quote, "do something" about Senator Burris?

WILLIAMS: The pressure's increasing. There's a preliminary investigation already launched by the Senate Ethics Committee, and you have two legislators in Illinois calling for him to resign. You know, Senator Dick Durbin, who is the senior senator from Illinois, said that he will not support Burris now for reelection in 2010.

But the thing is that Burris, the testimony that was released this week has Burris essentially committing perjury, in which he does not reveal to the people who were investigating his relationship with the governor before he got the Senate seat that he had conversations with the brother, with Robert in which he offered to write a check or to have his law firm write a check and said that he was willing to work, to do something personally for the governor, to help him.

SIMON: Now, he points out he didn't actually write a check, just promised.

WILLIAMS: Later - that's what he subsequently says. Despite this transcript, he later did not write the check. But in terms of whether or not he revealed this conversation to people who were looking into it, he did not. And so there's lots of pressure now, but you know, the Democrats have so much else on their plate, including this nomination, that they're not likely to do anything other than to say, please, please, Roland Burris, go away next year, you know, enough of this.

SIMON: NPR News analyst Juan Williams. Thanks so much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Scott.

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