Wednesday, April 03, 2024

We've Seen This Play Before

A Puerto Rican, Sonia Sotomayor is the first Latina to serve on the United States Supreme Court. But as Mehdi Hasan understands, that's simply not good enough.

In the article in The Guardian, Hasan writes is time to remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg. To recall how RBG, who had survived two bouts of cancer, refused to quit the court despite calls to do so from leading liberals during Barack Obama’s second term office. To hark back to her insistence, in multiple interviews, that it was “misguided” to insist she retire and that she would only stand down “when it’s time”. To recollect how, on her deathbed in 2020, she told her granddaughter that her “most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed” – and how it made no difference whatsoever! Donald Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett as RBG’s replacement just eight days after her death, and Senate Republicans confirmed Barrett to RBG’s vacant seat just eight days before election day.

With Joe Biden trailing Trump in several swing states and Democrats also in danger of losing their razor-thin majority in the Senate, are we really prepared for history to repeat itself? Sotomayor will turn 70 in June. Of course, only Sotomayor knows the full status of her health, still it is public knowledge that she has had type 1 diabetes since she was seven; had paramedics called to her home; and is the only sitting justice to have, reportedly, traveled with a medic. To be clear: she could easily – and God willing – survive a potential Trump second term and still be dishing out dissents from the bench come 2029.

But why take that risk? Why not retire now? Why not quit the bench at the same age that justices in Belgium, Australia and Japan are forced to do so?

Unfortunately, Sotomayor could not announce a retirement effective January 1, 2025 or January 7, 2025, the day after Congress presumably will certify the presidential election results, reserving the option to withdraw her resignation if Trump prevails. There is nearly a 50% chance that Biden will be re-elected while the math for Democrats holding on to the Senate is clearly absent.

Also unfortunate: Sotomayor is unlikely to retire, in part because there will be little pressure on her to do so. Hasan notes

In 2021, the progressive group Demand Justice sent a billboard truck to circle the supreme court building with the message: “Breyer, retire.” I joined in, too. “Retire, retire, retire,” I said in a monologue for my Peacock show in 2021. “Or history may end up judging you, Justice Breyer.”

So why is it okay to pressure Breyer to retire but not Sotomayor? 

There is no good reason, but thee is a reason and

This time round, Demand Justice isn’t taking a position on whether an older liberal justice should quit while a Democratic president and Senate can still replace them and, as HuffPost reports, “on the left, there is little open debate about whether she should retire.”

Well, of course, there isn't. And the reason there isn't echoes the reason why there is no push at all for Kamala Harris to step down. Karen Finney, the Democratic strategist who is quite pleased this state of affairs, believes that the risk of losing the presidency is an acceptable price to pay to maintain demographic purity. Citing an initial interest in a presidential bid

When you had people who were trying to test the waters, the party rose up and made it clear to those individuals — who were mostly white men — that to disrespect the vice president would not be well received by women and people of color within the party. They got a little bit of a smack in the face.

There are powerful figures in or about the Democratic Party who are less concerned with turning over the presidency to Donald Trump- or losing another Supreme Court seat to a selection made by a President Trump- than they are to the idea of losing a first. That would be the first black Vice President or the chance of the first black female President, and the first American of Latin descent to serve on the USA Supreme Court.

As Hasan advocates, Ginsburg might make the courageous and patriotic decision to step down. But Ruth Bader Ginsburg didn't, Kamala Harris won't, and it's not likely that Sonia Sotomayor will, either.

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