NBC's Lauer Advances WaPo Angle That Sotomayor Won't Be 'Reflexively Liberal'

While NBC's Matt Lauer, Pete Williams and Chuck Todd all appropriately applied the liberal label to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, on Tuesday's "Today" show, Lauer did try to sell the concept, advanced by the Washington Post, that Sotomayor wouldn't be "reflexively liberal."

MATT LAUER: Right, however in the Washington Post, back in May Pete, when writing about her judicial philosophy they said this, quote, "Sotomayor would probably be a reliably liberal vote on the Court, split into conservative and liberal blocks, on many issues, but her friends and colleagues and former clerks say, she would not be reflexively liberal or results oriented but would adhere to the law and the Constitution." We talking about a fine line there?

The following is a full transcript of the segment as it occurred on the May 26 edition of the "Today" show:

MATT LAUER: NBC News has learned that President Obama has tapped federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor as his first nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. We'll get more on this right now from NBC's chief justice correspondent Pete Williams. Pete, good morning, what can you tell me.

PETE WILLIAMS: Matt, well this would be the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court and the Obama administration intends to announce this at 10:15am Eastern time. And we're told that the President just made this decision within the past several hours. That as of last night he still hadn't decided. Sonia Sotomayor has the kind of story that the President may well have been talking about when he said he wants a judge who has empathy because she is, in a sense, the female equivalent of Barack Obama in terms of her early life story. Her parents were both immigrants from Puerto Rico. Her father died when she was just nine. Her mother was a nurse. She grew up in a public housing project in the Bronx. Bronxdale, where she talked as a child trying to avoid the drug dealers in the stairwells. From that very unlikely beginning she became an honors graduate at Princeton. A distinguished graduate of Harvard and is now a judge on the federal appeals court in New York.

Now she will generate some controversy for the President. Conservatives have already picked her out because of a decision she made involving a reverse discrimination case that's gotten a lot of attention involving firefighters from New Haven, Connecticut. The city threw out a test that the firefighters took because it said no African-Americans would have qualified for promotion, therefore the city said there must have been something wrong with the test. White firefighters sued though and claimed reverse discrimination. She's also spoken about how she believes her experience as a Latina makes her, in essence, a better judge than perhaps she would have been if she were a white man, and that will generate some controversy too. She's 54 years old. She turns 55 in June, in about a month or so. And she's been working, before she became a judge, in private practice. She was a prosecutor, an assistant district attorney in New York. She was nominated to the court by the first President Bush, rather the second President Bush, President H.W. Bush in 1992. So she has that bipartisanship in her background, Matt. And I think this will excite the, the followers of the President, his liberal base, because of her Hispanic background and because she has been one of the most prominent liberal judges in the country, Matt.

LAUER: Right, however in the Washington Post, back in May Pete, when writing about her judicial philosophy they said this, quote, "Sotomayor would probably be a reliably liberal vote on the Court, split into conservative and liberal blocks, on many issues, but her friends and colleagues and former clerks say, she would not be reflexively liberal or results oriented but would adhere to the law and the Constitution." We talking about a fine line there?

WILLIAMS: Well we're talking about what the fight will be over this justice. That's exactly what her supporters will say but conservative groups have already laid a marker down that they will attack her as being results oriented and they'll, they'll say that she doesn't follow the law as carefully but that's the essence of what this fight will be about. Now we have to note, of course, that the President probably has the votes to get whomever he wants. That she'll almost certainly be confirmed unless there's something remarkable in her background that we don't know about yet. And so you may well ask what's in it for the Republicans and the people who will oppose her nomination? And they say, in the main Matt, they want to turn this confirmation hearing into, as the saying goes, a teaching moment to try to bring up, you know, important questions about the rule of law and what a Supreme Court Justice ought to be.

LAUER: Pete, any indication, we, we, from all indications this had been narrowed down to four very qualified choices over the last couple of days. Any indication from the White House as to what tipped this in favor of Sonia Sotomayor?

WILLIAMS: We don't know that yet. I'm sure we'll find out when the President speaks here shortly, but I have to think Matt that there were several factors here. One is the fact that she is a woman, secondly the fact that she would be the first Hispanic justice. Now you always have to put a little asterisk after that, because there was a Supreme Court Justice, Benjamin Cardozo, but he had a Portuguese background and his family was Jewish and there was some question about whether he would be the first Hispanic. But I think everyone agrees she would be the first Hispanic justice. That's an important thing for the President, important in terms of the life experience she brings to the Court and she's talked about that herself and proudly so. And also I think because of the political consideration. Makes it a little harder, perhaps, for some Republicans to vote against the first Hispanic. And finally this background that she has, Matt. I mean if, if you were writing a movie scripted for a Supreme Court Justice's background you couldn't do much better than this. The fact that she came from very humble beginnings. Her father was a tool and dye maker who spoke only Spanish and died when she was nine. She has childhood diabetes. She has all these strikes against her and yet she's risen to these great heights. And, and I have no doubt that her personal story appealed to the President, given the remarks he has consistently made here. He has repeated them since he became President. He said it on the campaign trail, that he wanted someone who had empathy. Someone who understood what it was like to be poor and disadvantaged, who would see how the law works on the other end, after a decision has come out.

LAUER: Alright Pete, thank you very much for that information. Let me turn now to Chuck Todd, who's NBC's chief White House correspondent. Chuck, first of all, when do you think the President notified Sonia Sotomayor that he had made this decision?

CHUCK TODD: That we don't know. My guess is last night, possibly this morning. But it was as of five o'clock yesterday we were told by a lot of people the President had made a decision. He, he went some place, he went, he was on the golf course, supposedly, potentially making that final decision among those final four candidates, at this point. But I think what's interesting to watch with Sotomayor is that the White House didn't choose to go the easy confirmation route. That's not to say she won't get confirmed and probably confirmed rather easily when all is said and done, barring the, the unforseen. But she is not a shrinking violet and there is some concern, frankly with some Senate Democrats that I've talked to, that she could make the confirmation process harder just because she isn't a shrinking violet, that she isn't going to be afraid to be a little combative, which I think may excite some folks, particularly on the left who believe that there should be somebody of Scalia, of an Antonin Scalia's equal when it comes to that front. But that, of course, could rally Republicans. But then as Pete brought up there are some in, in Democratic circles who say, "Okay dare the Republicans to vote against the only, the first Hispanic justice and marginalize them from the fastest growing minority group in this country, even more so than they were marginalized during the 2008 election." So the politics of this thing, the confirmation process, it should be more of an active summer than maybe some of us expected.

LAUER: Alright Chuck Todd, thank you very much. Pete Williams thank you as well. We want to just remind you the official announcement on this expected to come at 10:15am Eastern time and NBC News will bring it to you live. And of course you can find continuing coverage throughout the day on MSNBC and MSNBC.com and complete wrap-up tonight on "NBC Nightly News."

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.