Editorial: No Food Fights

Posted June 2, 2009 at 2:40pm

We are gratified — and relieved — that Senate Republican leaders are rejecting the intemperate hostility of some GOP partisans toward the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court and are promising a “fair— and “respectful— examination of her qualifications.

Even though Democrats often have turned GOP judicial nominations into ideological food fights, GOP leaders have wisely decided not to follow the example of hotheads like Rush Limbaugh, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and ex-Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) in calling Sotomayor a “racist.—

The charge arises from Sotomayor’s statement in a 2001 lecture that “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better decision than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.—

That remark — and also, her statement that “the aspiration to impartiality is just that, an aspiration— — deserves to be rigorously examined, but in a civil manner befitting the dignity of both the Senate and the court.

Republicans have every right to point out that Democrats frequently haven’t lived up to that standard, the classic examples being bitter, personal attacks on conservative high court nominees Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito and on several appellate nominees during the George W. Bush administration.

Even though Republicans voted overwhelmingly for clearly liberal nominees like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, Democrats declared in recent years that ideology — and not merely brains, judgment and temperament — were proper grounds for vetoing (even filibustering) a nominee.

That door having been opened, Republicans can justifiably question whether Sotomayor is, as Democrats defined the standard, “mainstream— or is a “liberal activist— who views the bench (as she once said) as a place “where policy is made.—

On the Senate floor on Monday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared that “Republicans will insist that the confirmation process for Judge Sotomayor is conducted in a fair and professional manner— and “with respect.—

He added, however, “but respectful does not mean rushed— and raised questions about whether Sotomayor’s 17-year judicial record could be examined in time for her to take the bench when the court’s new term begins in October.

McConnell noted that the average length of time Senators had to prepare for hearings on the past three high court nominees was 60 days, implying that they could not begin before Congress’ August recess.

We concur that Senators should have adequate time to review the nominee’s record, but we’d also urge that Republicans not “slow walk— the process in hopes that delay will somehow produce damaging evidence against her.