An excellent piece at THE NEW YORKER says presidents have always tried to keep diversity on the highest Court, but what counts as diversity has changed with time.
Presidents used to preserve a New England seat, a Virginia seat, a Pennsylvania and a New York seat on the Court because regional disputes were the the most often kinds of cases heard. Later when European immigrants transformed American society, religious differences needed to be kept balanced. For more than a century the Catholic seat was respected and kept filled.
“As with earlier breakthrough nominations, Obama’s selection of Sotomayor has stirred some old-fashioned ugliness, and in that alone it serves as a reminder of the value of a diverse bench and society. Some anonymous portrayals of the Judge offered the kind of patronizing critiques (“not that smart”) that often greet outsiders at white-male preserves. Women who have integrated such bastions will be familiar, too, with the descriptions of her temperament (“domineering”), which are of a variety that tend to reveal more about the insecurity of male holdovers than about the comportment of female pioneers. The pernicious implication of such views is that white males, who constitute a hundred and six of the hundred and ten individuals who have served on the Court, made it on merit, and that Sotomayor is somehow less deserving.
And now with American diversity changing this president need not be reluctant to acknowledge that Hispanics, the nation’s fastest-growing ethnic group, who by 2050 will represent a third of the American people, deserve a place at this most exclusive table for nine. As Barack Obama knows better than most, it is a sign of a mature and healthy society when the best of formerly excluded groups have the opportunity to earn their way to the top.”