Why Won’t Obama Give a Litmus Test?

Joe Veix

Obama hasn't asked Sotomayor about her views on a single specific legal issue. Why?

Over at Politico, Roger Simon has a column that tries to puzzle out Obama’s opinion on abortion and Supreme Court nominees. Though Obama has been relatively clear about his stance on abortion during his campaign and during his presidency, with regard to nominating a justice for the Supreme Court, Simon writes:

"When it comes to Sonia Sotomayor, however, whom the president has appointed to a lifetime job on the U.S. Supreme Court, all is a mystery on the matter of abortion. The curtain has been drawn. The president did not ask her about abortion rights."

And Sotomayor explains:

"I was asked no question by anyone, including the president, about my views on any specific legal issue," Sotomayor told the Senate Judiciary Committee this week in response to a question about abortion."

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Politically this makes sense, but beyond that, it’s baffling. How can the President possibly nominate a justice for a lifetime position on the Supreme Court without asking for their views on a single specific legal issue? I’m not just speaking of abortion here; I mean any legal issue. If this is true, it verges on Bush-level incompetence. 

Press secretary David Gibbs said that the "president doesn’t have a litmus test." The litmus test is a political metaphor, such that it dodges important questions under the guise of fairness. Clinton and Bush also used it. The metaphor is creative (a litmus test involves testingthe acidity of a solution by dipping litmus paper into it, which will turn the paper either blue or red) but it’s almost always used pejoratively, as if understanding the specific legal views of a judge – beyond what their records indicate – would somehow be harmful to the nomination process. The only person it might be harmful to is the politician nominating the judge; because the less controversy, the easier the nomination will go.

Maybe all of the dodging of specifics is a guaranteed way to sneak in a liberal judge. If this is true, it seems dishonest: why would Obama go to all the trouble of obfuscating these judicial viewpoints, when he was elected to answer to these very viewpoints?


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