Posted by: JanF | April 12, 2015

Winning Elections: It’s the Supreme Court, All Y’all

Later today, the first candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nominating contest will throw her hat into the ring.

No, not her. She is doing a great job right where she is. She is just a reminder of what is at stake.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will officially enter the Democratic Party nominating contest. There will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth … and then the Republicans will weigh in, too! I believe their slogan will be “First the black guy, now the girl!?!1!!”

It should come as no surprise that I expect to weigh in as well and my theme for 2016 will be simple: we need to nominate the strongest candidate possible for the general election. This is not a “take the party back to our grassroots!” election, this is not a time to show our purity and consider only candidates who have never met anyone on Wall Street, this is not a time to dredge up the parts of the past that are unlikely to be good predictors of the future: it is a time to come together and emerge as strong as possible from the primary season and well positioned for the general election.

There are core Democratic Party principles that should guide all of our candidates. There are also hot button issues that make a candidate less attractive or more attractive to certain groups. But the only litmus test should be: can our candidate win in 2016?

Reason number 1: The Supreme Court (and the appellate courts and the district courts).

The next president could have the opportunity to choose 3 or 4 new justices for the Supreme Court. The chance to tilt the court to the left is a real possibility.

President Barack Obama appointed two justices for the Supreme Court: Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen. Justice Sotomayor became the first Latina on the court and holds dear the values most Democrats embrace.

Last month Justice Sotomayor spoke to students at Davidson College, a liberal arts school in North Carolina, and shared her judicial philosophy and philosophy of life:

Sotomayor herself is an example of diversity in a court that until recently was overwhelmingly male and white. She is known as much for her upbringing in housing projects in the Bronx as for her rulings in favor of civil liberties and social justice. She emphasized that diversity is essential to the court, because life experience – as well as legal expertise and knowledge of the Constitution – plays a vital role in how judges make decisions.

“Every life experience helps in judging,” she said. “We get cases in every field of human endeavor…so you want [justices] with broad life experiences, because those are the people you are asking to make the decisions.” […]

She has dissented on several important court rulings since her 2009 appointment by President Barack Obama, but she said she is optimistic that unjust rulings will eventually be overturned.

“We move from tolerance to intolerance and back again,” she said. “Really bad decisions have been overturned.”

But if the court is to rule in favor of justice, instead of lagging behind the rest of the country, Sotomayor said empathy has to play a part in justices’ decision-making. “When I meet someone,” she said, “I try really hard to project myself into their lives, to understand how they must be feeling.”

In this video reflecting on the talk and the reaction of the students and faculty, she stressed the need for a well-rounded education, not just in the law but in the liberal arts:

Justice Sotomayor: “Use your liberal arts education to make you rounded and whole people”.

(Link to video with the entire presentation on Vimeo is here)

Justice Sotomayor first served as a Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (nominated by President George H.W. Bush, before Republicans became completely insane) and then on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, nominated by President Bill Clinton. We build our bench (literally!) by appointing intelligent and thoughtful jurists to our federal courts.

Those intelligent and thoughtful jurists were in evidence at last month’s celebration of the 150 year anniversary of the federal court of Eastern District of New York:

The Eastern District of New York (EDNY), with its primary courthouse located on Cadman Plaza East in Downtown Brooklyn, celebrated 150 years on Monday during a special session of the court presided over by the Chief Judge of the Eastern District Carol Amon. Hons. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, associate justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, and the judges of the Eastern District joined Amon. […]

The respected Supreme Court jurist [Ruth Bader Ginsburg] was given a humorous T-shirt by Hon. Amon—who is known for her sense of humor—which read “You Want the Ruth? You Can’t Handle the Ruth!” for those pressuring the 82-year-old justice to retire from the Supreme Court bench. Ginsburg’s colleague, Sotomayor, did not speak at Monday’s event but will officiate a naturalization ceremony in October to commemorate the court’s anniversary.

That is what is at stake. And it requires winning elections.



  1. Twitter, April 12, 2015 at 2:27pm Central


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