The First Hispanic Justice:

Is there any evidence that choosing a Supreme Court nominee from a certain sex or race has any political impact? Jan Crawford Greenburg writes today, for instance:

President Obama had been “very interested” in her from the start, said one top adviser, and almost immediately, his political advisers--led by Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel--urged him to make history by tapping the first Hispanic justice.

The selection of Sotomayor, they argued, would energize a key and growing constituency, which could well be disappointed in coming months by expected failures to get meaningful immigration reform.

Is there any evidence that Ronald Reagan gained any real electoral benefit by appointing Sandra Day O'Connor? Or what about all the black votes that George H.W. Bush picked up by appointing Clarence Thomas? The Italians for the appointment of the first Italian Justice, Antonin Scalia? Did the Republicans really lose political support because George W. Bush appointed two white males instead of appointing a woman to replace O'Connor?

I have to say, I just don't see it. Is there really a group of people out there who simultaneously (1) are well-enough informed and educated to follow the Supreme Court carefully and (2) would be impressed by the "diversity" of the candidate, as opposed to their judicial philosophy, ideology, or voting pattern on the Court? If so, who are these people?

Recall the effort by the Republican Party to rally Hispanics in outrage over the filibuster of Miguel Estrada:

Mr. Bendixen's poll found that 28 percent of Hispanics support the nomination, while 11 percent opposed it and 61 percent weren't aware of the nomination or didn't have an opinion.

He said that, based on listening to some of the poll interviews, it was clear many of those who supported Mr. Estrada were also confusing him with actor Erik Estrada, who was on the 1977-1983 television police drama "CHiPS" and is now a popular Spanish-language soap-opera star.

"Many of them think President Bush nominated Erik Estrada — I'd say a good third think that way," Mr. Bendixen said, adding that he heard one person say Mr. Estrada should be confirmed because he did such a good job playing a policeman on "CHiPS."

Republicans' own numbers confirm that most Hispanics aren't aware of the situation. A poll released last week of 800 Hispanics, taken by Alexandria-based Latino Opinions and not limited to registered voters, showed that just one-third were aware the Estrada nomination is pending and being blocked.

I recognize that the Supreme Court is higher-profile than the DC Circuit. But 2006 was probably the most high-profile year for the Supreme Court in recent memory, perhaps in history. Two appointments and the highly controversial nomination of Harriet Miers. Even then, a poll found that 57 percent of Americans could not name a single Supreme Court Justice. The poll also found:

The percentage of Americans who can name all nine current Supreme Court justices, statistically speaking, is zero.

The percentage of Americans who can name eight or more of the nine current Supreme Court justices also statistically rounds to zero.

Incorrect responses from those surveyed as to who is currently serving on the U.S. Supreme Court included George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Thurgood Marshall and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I also recognize that I'm not the professional politician here. But these positions like Supreme Court and cabinet officials are really pretty obscure to most Americans. And those voters who can actually name these people largely seem to think it irrelevant to how they vote. So while the conventional wisdom is that there is a savvy political calculus here, I just don't see it.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Cardozo, Sotomayor, and "Hispanic":
  2. The First Hispanic Justice: