During the nomination process for Sonia Sotomayor, Republicans consistently argued that she was only chosen because she was a Latina, even though she had more judicial experience than any justice
currently sitting on the bench had when they were nominated. This was mere white identity politics: The GOP was deliberately trying to stoke white anxiety by suggesting that the president is a racist.
So this recollection from Peter Wallison on the nomination process when Ronald Reagan chose Antonin Scalia stuck out to me:
I think [Reagan] felt that it would be great to put an Italian American on the Supreme Court. He had all the usual American instincts: 'We don't have an Italian American on the court, so we ought to have one.' He really felt good about doing that. It wasn't principle so much as that kind of emotional commitment.
Wallison was White House counsel at the time and remembered that the meeting took "15 minutes" before Reagan offered Scalia the job. By modern Republican standards, this would make Reagan a racist, except that as Pat Buchanan might say, Scalia is white and "white men built this country." Therefore, such considerations are completely justified. Buchanan was White House Communications Director at the time, and he certainly didn't resign in protest.
If the nomination process for Sotomayor had actually gone like this, Republicans would hold it up as proof that the president chooses people for positions on the basis of ethnic identity. But of course the animating principle of the opposition to Sotomayor that focused on her allegedly being "an affirmative action hire" wasn't so much "colorblindness" as race-based tribalism. Or rather it was a type of race-based tribalism that deliberately presents itself as "colorblindness" so as not to appear morally reprehensible.
Sotomayor was supremely qualified, and a more diverse bench is in principle a desirable goal. Clearly Reagan, who also nominated the first woman to the bench, would have agreed with the latter sentiment.
-- A. Serwer
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