Valencia, who had worked on both the campaign and transition team for Barack Obama, was serving as his deputy director in the Office of Public Engagement when Supreme Court Justice David Souter announced his retirement in 2009.
Listen to the audio version.She urged Obama to select Sotomayor. When he did - a decision announced when Valencia was back here getting married - she helped lead the effort to build support for her Senate confirmation.
“The broader impact of what her nomination means to the country became very clear and very personal. I could be her,” Valencia writes in the book West Wing. “Getting her confirmed to the U.S. Senate became much more than a political task; it reminded me of why I had gotten into politics in the first place.”
Watching black women, especially attorneys, respond to news last week that Stephen Breyer will retire at the end of this term, and President Joe Biden will keep his campaign promise to fill the seat with a black woman, has been uplifting.
Some on the other side are responding with shock and alarm, alleging that Biden has politicized the process. They will also be disturbed to learn that gambling is taking place in the back room of Rick’s Cafe and the winners of pro wrestling matches are predetermined.
Ronald Regan was responding to a drop in the polls among female voters caused by his opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment when he nominated Sandra Day O’Connor to be the first woman on the court. Obama was being called the “deporter in chief” when he nominated Sotomayor. Donald Trump was trying to shore up support from women in the suburbs just before the election when Amy Coney Barrett got the nod. Biden made his promise before the South Carolina primary, earning the game-changing endorsement of Rep. James Clyburn. And thank goodness they all did.
This is nothing new. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln used the leverage of a Supreme Court vacancy to win support for his re-election from political rival Salmon P. Chase.
The bittersweet part of all this has been watching Breyer’s resignation - in both senses of that word. He is not only resigning his seat, but he seems to have also resigned himself to the fact that, yes, it really is all about politics. Breyer had been one of the last true believers in a Supreme Court that put the law first.
Politics isn’t always a dirty word. In this case, it has forced a long-overdue change for the better. A group of Americans who had been excluded throughout the history of our country will finally be represented.
But the political makeup of the court won’t change. This summer, the court is likely to hand down rulings that will strip away women’s reproductive rights, weaken state laws on concealed-carry gun licenses and require states to provide education funding to religious schools. The court has already moved to restrict the Biden administration’s mandatory COVID vaccination policy.
And it won’t stop there. One untimely death, combined with political maneuvering by Sen. Mitch McConnell, have resulted in a 6-3 majority for Republicans on the court. They will continue to hand down rulings that are out of step with the country until the majority demands change. Whatever that change is, it will come through the political process.
Walter Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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