Leahy, Sessions Try to Set a Respectful Tone

Posted May 31, 2009 at 11:18am

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) sought to maintain the peace on Sunday over President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, avoiding a partisan fistfight during their first televised appearance together.During an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,— Leahy and Sessions largely stuck to their respective parties’ message scripts, with Leahy building the defense of Sotomayor’s belief that personal experience colors how judges approach cases, while Sessions looked to strike a cautiously skeptical tone.When pressed on charges by conservative activists that Sotomayor is a “reverse racist,— Sessions said he did not believe it was accurate and warned against inserting race into the process.“People on the outside can say what they want to … [but] I don’t think that’s an appropriate description of her,— Sessions said. “We should not demagogue race,— he added.But Sessions did raise concerns with a 2001 speech by Sotomayor in which she said race and gender could help make a woman a better judge than a white man. “The whole basis of the American rule of law is blind justice,— Sessions argued, adding that he will discuss the issue with Sotomayor when they meet this week.Leahy, meanwhile, sought to stress her “compelling story— as a Puerto Rican from the Bronx who has risen to the heights of the American judicial system, and called complaints about her statements “ridiculous.—Leahy argued that attempting to separate personal experience from the work of a judge is impossible and pointed out that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito whom Sessions supported had explicitly said his family’s immigration background had an impact on how he sees discrimination cases.Although Sessions said that he believes completing the confirmation by the August recess “is rushing it,— he once again said a filibuster of Sotomayor appears unlikely.Leahy declined to attach a firm timeline to the process, saying he will announce a hearing date after he and Sessions complete negotiations and once the committee receives Sotomayor’s responses to written questions.The question of Sotomayor’s race dogged Republicans throughout the Sunday talk shows and at one point forced Sessions into offering up praise of the nominee. “This lady has a good record. … She’s got the kind of background that you’d look for, almost the ideal mix— of private practice and work as a judge, Sessions said.When asked about the issue, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) earlier in the day, sought to avoid the controversy.“I don’t know of Republicans in the Senate who have ever called her a racist,— Kyl said in an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation,— and later added: “I’m not going to get drawn into characterizations before I’ve even met her.—The Arizonan said he will examine Sotomayor’s judicial record before making any pronouncements.But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called on Sotomayor to apologize for the 2001 remarks in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.—“Does she really understand what America’s about? To come as far as she has is a great compliment to her,— Graham said. “I hope she will apologize for the comment we’re all talking about.—Asked whether he agreed with Graham, Kyl said only: “I’m sure she will argue that you have to look at the entire context of her speech … and I think that’s a fair point.—He later added: “Here’s the question that is raised by that statement: What is her judicial philosophy?—Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) defended Sotomayor on “Face the Nation— but acknowledged she should not have used the word “better— in her discussion of the decisions reached by a Latina judge versus a white male judge.“Without that one word, it’s a perfectly fine statement. You could say the use of that word was inartful,— Feinstein said. “This is in fact an amazing woman.—Feinstein later criticized conservative activists for their characterization of Sotomayor as a racist. “I think that’s an absolutely terrible thing to throw around. … To call someone a racist I think is just terrible,— Feinstein said.