Washington One of the few things conservatives and liberals agree on when it comes to Sonia Sotomayor is that her views on abortion rights are a mystery — and one that must be solved before she can be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice.
Sotomayor’s nomination has reopened a politically and emotionally charged debate over abortion that’s energized interest groups on the left and right — all working to draw members, money and attention by ensuring the issue features prominently in the judge’s confirmation hearings.
Unlike many liberal organizations that came out swiftly and enthusiastically to back Sotomayor, abortion-rights groups are withholding their support until she answers questions on the court’s 1973 legalization decision and the principles behind it.
NARAL Pro Choice America has praised her experience and background but has stopped well short of endorsing her. “We look forward to learning more about Judge Sotomayor’s views on the right to privacy and the landmark Roe v. Wade decision as the Senate’s hearing process moves forward,” the group’s president, Nancy Keenan, said Tuesday, the day the nomination was announced.
She declined through a spokesman Thursday to comment further on the subject. The group is asking supporters to urge senators to ask Sotomayor about Roe and the right to privacy.
Neither abortion rights advocates nor foes take any comfort from the abortion-related cases on which Sotomayor has ruled as a federal judge — none of which were decided based on the principles or precedents underlying Roe v. Wade.
“I don’t think anybody can draw a conclusion,” said Charmaine Yoest, the president of Americans United for Life, which opposes abortion rights. “Given the fact that she has been so outspoken about the view that her personal opinions and personal characteristics come into play at the bar, that’s very troubling to us.”
On the opposite side, Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, said: “We don’t have enough information to take a position at this time. We’re waiting to learn more about Judge Sotomayor’s views on the constitutional right to privacy, including the right to choose.”
The White House edged carefully around the issue Thursday in an animated question-and-answer session in which reporters pressed to know whether President Barack Obama had ascertained Sotomayor’s views before nominating her.
Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said the two discussed Sotomayor’s “views on unenumerated rights in the Constitution and the theory of settled law” — both of which have been buzz-phrases for backers of the 1973 decision. In Roe, the court recognized a right to privacy even thought it’s not spelled out in the Constitution. Abortion-rights backers consider the decision “settled law” — a kind of super-precedent that has survived long enough without major challenge that it shouldn’t be reconsidered.
Obama was “very comfortable with her interpretation of the Constitution being similar to that of his,” Gibbs said, declining to provide more specifics.