I hope that were I in President Obama's position, I would not allow questions of gender or ethnicity to sway my decision on whom to nominate to the Supreme Court. Fortunately for all concerned, I am not in his position and never shall be. This is not the first, and will most likely not be the last, instance in which gender and ethnicity were or will be significant factors. That does not make it right, but that's the way it is. Nor does past practice mean that a President must consider gender or ethnicity; that is a political question, an area in which he, ultimately, is the boss. Whether the Senate confirms or rejects a nominee is also a political question, and in that area the Senate is the boss.
Something quite different is true of judicial precedents. As noted below, they demand adherence, and those established by superior courts must not be brushed off by inferior courts.
There are legitimate concerns about the nomination of Judge Sotomayor, and some which I consider ill considered. It seems unwise for those who oppose her to focus on grounds easily rejected. It would be far more useful to focus on questions of her judicial philosophy in a non-case-specific context, and on how that philosophy may affect her conduct as a Supreme Court justice.
I am particularly troubled by her unfortunate comment a few years ago that
"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion . . . than a white male who hasn't lived that life."
I don't have any unique insight into what she may have meant, and I hope that she will be questioned during the Senate confirmation hearing until what she meant, and how it might affect her conduct as a Supreme Court justice, are clear. I doubt that she was merely saying that she hoped that a "wise Latina" would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a "white male" who had not been raised as an Hispanic on how best to prepare pollo asado. In the unlikely event that that is all she meant, her hope has been confirmed by my personal experiences; I can't prepare pollo asado worth a hoot. However, it seems very likely that Judge Sotomayor meant a lot more there and in other statements, and I hope to find out what. Depending on what what is, it may well impact unfavorably (or favorably) on whether she should be confirmed.