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SAUNDERS: The campaign to oust first Latina justice — by the left

WASHINGTON

Time is breathing down U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s neck. So is the ghost of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Sotomayor is 69. I, too, am 69. And really, if either of us were running for president, we’d look downright baby-faced in the pack with President Joe Biden, 81, and former President Donald Trump, 77. We’re younger than independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who is 70.

But Sotomayor is the oldest of the three justices nominated by a Democratic president. If she left the court, Biden could replace her with someone younger, who could be expected to serve for decades.

On Monday, The Guardian’s Mehdi Hasan wrote a column urging Sotomayor — whom he sees as “the greatest liberal to sit on the supreme court in my adult lifetime” — to retire.

Hasan understands that if Trump wins in 2024, and, God forbid, something should happen to Sotomayor, or Justices Elena Kagan, 63, or Ketanji Brown Jackson, 53, the right-left balance of power on the big bench could shift from 6-3 to 7-2.

If RBG had resigned, say, in 2014 when she was 81, President Barack Obama and the Democrat-controlled Senate could have picked a very liberal jurist to replace her. At the time, left-leaning law professor Erwin Chemerinsky wrote a Los Angeles Times column that urged Ginsburg to leave the court.

Shortly before she died in September 2020, Ginsburg told her granddaughter it was her “fervent wish” that her replacement not be named until after the November election — which doesn’t say much for her judgment.

There was no way Trump was going to heed Ginsburg’s wishes. To do so would have been political malpractice.

Instead, Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett; the Senate promptly confirmed her in a 52-48 vote.

As a Republican, I’m happy with the court’s 6-3 makeup. But as someone who respects how the system works, I think Hasan is right to point out what Sotomayor’s continued presence on the court means for the left.

During the Trump years, there were whispers on the right that Justice Clarence Thomas should resign so Trump could replace him with a conservative more likely to serve decades. Thomas didn’t budge. At 75, after all the efforts to smear him and keep him from his perch, Thomas is the oldest justice on the top court.

Today, even if Thomas wanted to resign, he couldn’t just leave and hand a vacancy for Team Biden to fill.

Asked Wednesday for the White House reaction to media buzz about the first Latina justice’s continued presence on the bench, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre didn’t bite. She responded, “When it comes to those types of decisions, those are personal decisions, regardless if it’s Justice Sotomayor or any other justice on the bench.”

Obama knew better than to pressure RBG to resign, although news of a 2013 lunch between the two left little doubt that the president would be fine with the opportunity to name her successor.

Instead, Trump chose her successor. RBG’s legacy is not so much her trailblazer status as her decision to cling to power and damn the consequences.

I’d say it all worked out.

Contact Review-Journal columnist Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com. Follow @debrajsaunders on X.

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