Academic journal article Justice System Journal

Minority Representation, the Electoral Connection, and the Confirmation Vote of Sonia Sotomayor

Academic journal article Justice System Journal

Minority Representation, the Electoral Connection, and the Confirmation Vote of Sonia Sotomayor

Article excerpt

This article examines the effect of Hispanic constituents on senators' votes to confirm or reject the nomination of Sonia M. Sotomayor to join the Li. S. Supreme Court. We study the impact of Hispanics in senators' reelection and geographical constituencies. Using logistic regression and advanced postestimation techniques we find that, contrary to popular expectations and hypotheses derived from previous research, Hispanics had little or no impact on the outcome. We then suggest potential explanations and implications of this finding.

Representation is a fundamental principle in American democracy. Citizens select who makes decisions about the creation and implementation of public policy, and emphasis is placed on choosing representatives that reflect the interests and demographics of the public. The federal judiciary is distinct in that the people choose its members indirectly via the appointment process specified in Article II of the Constitution. However, representation still plays two important roles in judicial selection. First, the federal judiciary has become increasingly representative of the public with regard to gender and race since the 1970s (Goldman, 1997; Scherer, 2005). This provides descriptive and symbolic representation to women and minority groups, and may also supply substantive representation (see Pitkin, 1967). Second, senators respond to popular sentiment about judicial nominees when casting confirmation votes. These views may be expressed by either their constituents at home (Kastellec, Lax, and Phillips, 2010) or organized interest groups (Caldeira, Hojnacki, and Wright, 2000; Scherer, Bartels, and Steigerwalt, 2008; Steigerwalt, 2010; Vining, 2011). However, not all constituents are equal. Senators desire to be reelected (Mayhew, 1974), and some individuals influence that outcome more than others.

There are several ways to conceptualize political constituencies. Fenno (1978) frames representation as overlapping concentric circles consisting of geographic, personal, primary, and reelection constituencies. The largest of these circles is the geographic constituency, which is defined as the population within the area represented (1). Nested within the geographic constituency is the reelection constituency, which is the set of individuals whom a legislator perceives as his electoral supporters (8). Finally, the primary and personal constituencies comprise a representative's core supporters and close associates. This article examines the effects of these conceptions of constituencies and representation on an event designed to diversify the Supreme Court of the United States-the nomination of Second Circuit Judge Sonia M. Sotomayor, the first Hispanic American and third woman to join the high court. Observers argued that votes against her would be politically precarious for many Republican senators because of the increasing population and political power of Hispanic Americans. However, more than three-fourths of Republicans voted against her. We investigate whether and why senators, particularly Republicans, responded to their Hispanic constituents when voting to confirm or reject Sotomayor's confirmation.

The scarce opportunities to observe Senate votes on minority Supreme Court nominees limit our ability to generalize. The existing research examines just two confirmation votes more than twenty years apart. The Sotomayor nomination provides a third opportunity, and the first to feature a non-black nominee. Her confirmation is especially interesting given the increasing role of Hispanics in American politics. Furthermore, Hispanic Americans are less unified politically than African-Americans, and are considered more open to supporting either major party.

Our analysis emphasizes the disparity between geographic and reelection constituencies and assesses their effects on senators' support for Sotomayor, particularly when reelection was imminent. Our findings reveal that neither large Hispanic populations nor greater electoral support from them swayed senators. …

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