Sotomayor Hearing Sparks Predictable Arguments

Posted July 14, 2009 at 10:14am

Updated: 2:24 p.m.As expected, Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans spent much of Tuesday using Supreme Court hopeful Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation battle as a stage for a broader assault on what they argue is the Obama administration’s overly liberal view of the judiciary.Meanwhile, Judiciary Democrats used the opening round of questions Tuesday to back President Barack Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee and to give her room to deflect conservative attacks on her statements and previous work with a Puerto Rican civil rights group.“If there’s a test for judicial temperament, you get an A plus, plus … [for] respond[ing] to questions that in their nature are quite provocative,— Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said.Ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), often barely pausing for Sotomayor to finish her answers, hammered away at her on issues such as affirmative action and gun rights.Sessions used much of his 30-minute questioning period to press Sotomayor on her 2002 comment that a “wise Latina— woman would arrive at a better conclusions in certain cases than a white man.Sotomayor called the statement an unfortunate turn of phrase. “I was trying to play on … words. My play fell flat. It was bad, because it left an impression that I believe that life experiences command a result in a case. But that’s clearly not what I intended in the context of my broader speech,— Sotomayor said, arguing that her record demonstrates that she has acted fairly and without bias.But Sessions was undeterred and continually came back to her statements, brushing aside Sotomayor’s argument that, “I believe my record of 17 years does demonstrate fully that … I have done what the law requires.—Yet Sessions wouldn’t back down: “If you’d been saying that with clarity over the last few, 15 years, we’d have a lot fewer questions today.—Unlike Sessions, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) seemed to fully engage Sotomayor when it was his turn, pressing her on her rulings related to gun rights, affirmative action, abortion and other issues.But toward the end of his questioning, Hatch also appeared to drift into a broader discussion, using the platform to complain that the “far left— organization People for the American Way has engaged in an alleged “smear campaign— of Frank Ricci. Ricci was one of the plaintiffs in a case in New Haven, Conn., in which the lower court affirmed the city’s decision to throw out a promotions test on which minority firefighter candidates did not fare well. Sotomayor serves on the lower court that issued the ruling, which was recently overturned by the Supreme Court.“This organization has been smearing Frank Ricci,— Hatch said, referring to the People for the American Way. He added that “I know that you had nothing to do with it … I’m making the point that that’s the sort of thing that doesn’t belong in a Supreme Court hearing.—Sessions and Hatch also repeatedly invoked the failed nomination of Miguel Estrada by former President George W. Bush to become a U.S. Circuit Court judge. Estrada’s nomination was blocked by Democrats on several occasions, largely over the administration’s unwillingness to release a host of documents Judiciary Committee members were demanding.Sessions and Leahy engaged in several terse exchanges over Estrada, prompting Feinstein to openly question why he was being brought up.“I’m a little puzzled why Mr. Estrada keeps coming up … Mr. Estrada wouldn’t answer questions when put to him … This nominee has been very straightforward,— Feinstein said.