The Democrats, Joe Biden, Sonia Sotomayor’s Dilemma and the Defeat Reflex

When Sonia Sotomayor was sworn in as a member of the US Supreme Court in 2009, it was a victory not only for then-President Barack Obama – who had nominated her – and the Democrats, but also for her country.

The progressive jurist became the first Hispanic woman in American history to be appointed to the highest echelon of the US judiciary.

Its judges serve for life. It can only be terminated by resignation, retirement, removal on censure from the legislative branch, or, of course, death.

Logically, none of these should concern the 69-year-old Sotomayor today, after 15 years of a successful term.

He may not be in great health – he suffers from diabetes. It remains, however, combative in the powerful nine-member House which, amid the Trump presidency, has acquired an ultra-conservative supermajority. She is the oldest of only three progressive justices left on its bench.

Suddenly, however, a new topic has emerged in the public debate in the US.

It was initially raised through a series of articles in the press, in printed fila close to the Democrats. It continued with statements by party officials at the Congress.

Reflecting their fears about the outcome of the November election, they are calling for Sotomayor to retire so that President Biden can appoint a younger, progressive judge to replace her.

That is, as long as he is president and the Democrats control the Senate.

If it does, the move won’t change the 6-to-3 majority of conservatives on the Supreme Court.

The voices in favor of replacing Sotomayor are based on a logic of securing the three seats of the progressives, in the visible possibility that the November polls will strongly shuffle the political “deck” in Washington.

Former US President Barack Obama announcing Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the US Supreme Court in 2009

The Ginsberg “syndrome”

The position of Democrats calling for the 69-year-old Sotomayor to retire sounds out of place when you consider that Joe Biden is running for re-election at the age of 81.

But their main argument is to avoid a repeat of what happened four decades ago, after the death of the iconic Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg four years ago.

It happened in September 2020, during the final months of the Trump presidency.

He was quick to appoint Amy Coney-Barrett, an “anti-Ginsberg” in her place.

She was one of the three judges he appointed during his term to the Supreme Court, cementing his ultra-conservative turn. That’s how it stays.

The memories remain fresh for Democrats.

Mainly, not from Ginsberg’s refusal to step down in 2014, when Obama could have chosen a progressive successor.

If Donald Trump is elected now, if Republicans take control of Congress, or – more likely – if both happen and Sotomayor is replaced within the next four years, the Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority will become 7-2, with chronic effects.

They are already visible in American society, with a series of recent obscurantist decisions.

They range from abortion, gun ownership and the block on partial cancellation of student debt, to discrimination against minorities and the LGBTI+ community.

Realism or sexism?

The out-of-nowhere talk of Sotomayor’s retirement has sparked fierce criticism of sexism, racial discrimination, hypocrisy on the issue of ageism, and even bouts of defeatism among Democrats.

The parallels with Ginsberg’s case are unfortunate to say the least. The iconic judge died at the age of 87 from pancreatic cancer, while the 69-year-old Sotomayor suffers from Type 1 diabetes.

Since 1971, meanwhile, the average retirement age for members of the US Supreme Court is 78.7 years. On average, their terms reach 28 years.

Sotomayor, however, is theoretically more likely to continue serving on the Supreme Court when the incoming US president is sworn in on January 20, 2029.

It certainly won’t be either Biden or Trump, today 81 and 78 respectively.

However, speaking earlier this year at a UC Berkeley Law School event, she said her workload has become more demanding over time and that she has become “tired” of the volume of cases reaching the Supreme Court.

This is also an example of the extreme polarization in the US. If there’s one thing “that keeps me on my toes,” Sotomayor stressed, “it’s that I understand the impact that the Court has on people and the country and sometimes the world.”

The White House attempted to distance itself from the public debate surrounding her case. They are “personal decisions” for judges to make, spokeswoman Karin Jean-Pierre said.

The Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dick Durbin, spoke in favor of her remaining on the Supreme Court. Many talk about pointless chatter. The Liberal Globe’s view is that Sotomayor should remain in her position either way.

“The problem”, however, remains the fear in the party about what the November ballot box will ultimately produce.

About the author

The Liberal Globe is an independent online magazine that provides carefully selected varieties of stories. Our authoritative insight opinions, analyses, researches are reflected in the sections which are both thematic and geographical. We do not attach ourselves to any political party. Our political agenda is liberal in the classical sense. We continue to advocate bold policies in favour of individual freedoms, even if that means we must oppose the will and the majority view, even if these positions that we express may be unpleasant and unbearable for the majority.

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