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Sotomayor's 'Play Ball' Case Will Bring Her Home

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor's supporters may be worrying about her Supreme Court confirmation but Rita Henley Jensen, our editor in chief, predicts the judge's ruling on our national pastime will win hearts in the Senate.

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Sonia Sotomayor's supporters may be worrying about her Supreme Court confirmation but Rita Henley Jensen, our editor in chief, predicts the judge's ruling on our national pastime will win hearts in the Senate.
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Rita Henley Jensen

(WOMENSENEWS)--My politically active Latina neighbor is deeply worried. But she's a lawyer, so you would expect that sort of thing.

My Bush-conspiracy-theorist Latina friend is worried too, but then, you might not be surprised that someone who believes George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had a hand in planning the attacks on Sept. 11 would be sniffing out evidence of a right-wing plot.


Update: Sotomayor resigned from the networking club, the Belizean Grove, on Friday, avoiding any further controversy.

They and most of the other members of Latinas in Power, a tight-knit group of New York's Latinas on the rise, met and partied in their favorite uptown Manhattan club the Friday after Judge Sonia Sotomayor was nominated for the U. S. Supreme Court.

Within days, however, they began to fret when some members of the Senate began lobbing verbal attacks at Sotomayor because she said at a conference in the 1990s that being a Latina shaped her rulings from the bench.

Now in some Republican quarters, questions are being raised about her membership in the Belizean Grove, a private organization of female professionals from the profit, nonprofit and social sectors.

The founder of the organization, Susan Schiffer Stautberg, was one of this year's Women's eNews 21 Leaders for the 21st Century because she created an opportunity for highly successful women to network with the aim to minimize the toll of sex bias on women's careers.

Note to the U.S. Senate: This is not an example of a club practicing "invidious discrimination," as described in the Code of Judicial Conduct, but a vehicle for helping individuals overcome "invidious discrimination." See the difference?

Meanwhile on the other side of the national divide, some advocates have expressed an anxiety that Sotomayor not be pro-choice enough and others began furrowing their collective brow, sending out statements reflecting their concern that, whatever the ostensible reason, Sotomayor might not be confirmed, even with 59 Democratic senators and with two Republican women in the chamber.


Making a Prediction

As for me, a practiced worrier in my own right, I'm going out on a limb and making a prediction; this nomination will be a home run. I have felt this way during the whole process, ever since her name appeared on the short list of candidates to replace Justice David Souter after he announced he was retiring to his cabin in the New Hampshire woods.

While I understand President Obama really did have to interview other candidates to demonstrate the fairness of the process, I had no doubt that it was going to be Sotomayor.

The Sotomayor nomination has a special thrill for many of those migrated from Puerto Rico to the mainland or immigrated from Spanish-speaking nations--or with close relatives who made the journey.

Yet my confidence in the outcome is not because on the rising influence of the Latin vote. Obama's appointment of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis already helped prove that.

Nor does my confidence stem from the nominee's widespread popularity among women.


A Refreshing Nonstarter Issue

My confidence begins with the welcome and refreshing promise of abortion rights being a nonstarter in this case. There are two reasons for that.

First off, Democrats are unlikely to waste C-Span time trying to nail down Sotomayor's beliefs about reproductive privacy, given Obama's assurances and the party's wish not to rile their anti-choice members.

Secondly, Sotomayor has not written a decision addressing abortion rights. That makes it pretty much impossible for the Republican members of the U.S. Senate to rake her over the coals much on this issue.

To the extent the issue of choice does arise, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's responses during her own Senate hearing also offers a guide on how to remain noncommittal.

Bottom line--pro-choice or not, Latina that she is who said something once that was obviously true but annoyed some of the Old Boys--she will be confirmed with a speed comparable to that of a home-run hit in Yankee Stadium in The Bronx.


Think Back

My reason? Think back to the one judicial decision that Obama mentioned when he announced her nomination: "Some say that Judge Sotomayor saved baseball," he said, once again the master of the understatement.

The fact is, thousands of fans, the players, the team owners and casual observers all refer to Sotomayor as the judge who saved baseball.

She did it when she sat on Manhattan's federal bench and issued a temporary injunction ending the player's strike in 1995. I was a reporter for the National Law Journal on that historic day and relief and awe swept through the newsroom.

My mostly male colleagues stopped work, gathered in small groups and dissected the decision with glee rarely seen in our profession. Excitement over the decision was heightened by the fact that a female judge--a woman!--understood the importance of the game and its arcane labor practices and had the fortitude to call it like she saw it.

By saying "play ball" from the bench, Sotomayor became an overnight judicial hero. Her name was always mentioned in a tone of respect in the newsroom and with the short addendum, in case the listener did not follow these things, "She saved baseball."

Nor has the memory faded. Just ask Obama.

Can anyone truly believe that the woman who saved baseball will be given a hard time by the benchwarmers in the ultimate Boys Club, the U.S. Senate? I'm thinking she will trot around the bases, even with her broken ankle, and quickly be declared safe at home.

Rita Henley Jensen is founder and editor in chief of Women's eNews.

Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors@womensenews.org.