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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sotomayor Completes Testimony with Grace

Today was the fourth and final day of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing to the Supreme Court. The day began with only four Senate Republicans and approximately eight Senate Democrats remaining in the second round of questioning. However, at the request of committee Republicans, Senator Leahy graciously allowed each member another ten minutes during a third round of questioning. By the end, Judge Sotomayor had sat before the committee for over twenty four hours.

The themes of the previous days’ questioning continued, with Republicans aggressively questioning Sotomayor about her views on the Second Amendment, international law, her involvement in the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, and her decision in Ricci v DeStefano. Senate Democrats emphasized her impeccable qualifications, inspiring life story, and solid judicial record.

Senator Kyl was particularly tough in his approach. He grilled her on her decision in Ricci, but Sotomayor held her ground, contending that precedent dictated the result of the three judge panel, and that the Supreme Court had created a new legal standard in its decision to overrule the Second Circuit. Senator Kyl mistakenly concluded that all nine Supreme Court justices disagreed with the Second Circuit’s decision, a point that both Sotomayor and other commentators have noted is incorrect. In fact, four justices of the Supreme Court made very clear that they would have affirmed the Second Circuit’s decision.

Senator Graham’s questioning of Sotomayor was also striking, as it seemed to lay the groundwork for a vote in favor of the nominee. He remarked that she was “broadminded” and agreed that her “wise Latina” comment was not meant to encourage race or gender discrimination or preferences. Graham also stated that he did not think Judge Sotomayor was a “judicial activist,” a worn-out buzz word used by the right to waylay nominees. Ironically, while Senator Coburn decried the use of foreign law to interpret the Constitution or laws of the United States, he encouraged judges to look to the rest of the world when it came to a woman’s right to choose, claiming that 80% of the rest of the world doesn’t allow abortions after twelve weeks.

At the conclusion of committee questioning, a number of witness panels appeared before the members. The American Bar Association testified on behalf of Judge Sotomayor, giving her their highest rating of “well qualified.” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomburg, New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, and Wade Henderson President of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights also testified and spoke to her character, competence, and suitability for the Court. Additionally, witnesses for the minority testified, including Frank Ricci and Benjamin Vargas of the New Haven Fire Department (Ricci plaintiffs), Peter Kirsanow of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and conservative commentator Linda Chavez. It was clear that the Ricci plaintiffs elicited empathy from Republican Senators for the burden the suit had placed on their families and the unsatisfying result they received in both the district court and the Second Circuit. Indeed, it appears the Republicans believe there is a place for empathy in our judicial system after all, as long as the result is one with which they agree.

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