The First Draft: Swearing-in is one thing. A White House do is another.

August 12, 2009

USA-SOTOMAYOR/For those who may have missed it — and don’t laugh, there could be quite a few who did — there’s a new Supreme Court justice in town. After months of speculation, debate, a Capitol Hill grilling and finally a vote to confirm her, Sonia Sotomayor was sworn in as the first Latina and only the third woman to serve on the U.S. high court.

The problem, for public-awareness purposes, is that it happened on Saturday in an eye-blink ceremony in a conference room at the Supreme Court building. That was a departure from decades of tradition that has dictated a White House oath-taking for new justices, reportedly on President Barack Obama’s say-so.

That doesn’t mean Sotomayor won’t get her time at the White House. That happens this morning in an East Room reception hosted by the president and first lady Michelle Obama.

It’s a busy day for official honors at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This afternoon, there will be a ceremony to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Senator Ted Kennedy, human rights leader Bishop Desmond Tutu, tennis great Billie Jean King and actor and activist Sidney Poitier, among others. See the complete list here.

SAUDIThe most controversial recipient is probably Mary Robinson, the former U.N. high commissioner for human rights and an organizer of an anti-racism conference in South Africa in 2001. The U.S. delegation walked out of that conference and pro-Israel groups and others have criticised its concluding document as anti-Semitic and equating Zionism with racism. John Bolton, Washington’s U.N. representative during the Bush administration, said flatly in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that Robinson should not receive the award.

Could there be protests in this most decorous of locations, at what is normally — forgive our jaded sensibilities — a heart-warming but often dull ceremony? Stay tuned.

For more Reuters political coverage, click here.

Photo credits: REUTERS/Jim Young (Sonia Sotomayor is sworn in as associate Supreme Court justice, August 8, 2009); REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed (Mary Robinson speaks at the 3rd Global Competitiveness Forum, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 25, 2009)

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