Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=135801
Story Retrieval Date: 5/24/2013 1:36:08 PM CST
WASHINGTON -- Under fire, Sonia Sotomayor stood strong in her second-day appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Defending both her impartiality and her deference to court precedence, Sotomayor parried questions regarding her track record with slowly articulated answers, about how she would decide cases if she were a member of the Supreme Court.
Abandoning the placid expression that marked her appearance Monday, Sotomayor was animated, responding to questions with a combination of humor -- "No words I have sever spoken or written have received so much attention” she said when responding to a Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. regarding the now-famous "wise Latina" comment -- and with the poise of an academic.
Sotomayor spent Tuesday defending decisions the Supreme Court has overturned, including the contentious Ricci vs. DeStafano case brought by white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., who said they were discriminated against in hiring and promotion.
In each instance, Sotomayor explained her opinions were grounded in precedent – a statement repeated throughout the hours of questioning.
Of particular concern to Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the committee's ranking member, was Sotomayor’s understanding of the role and power of the courts. “You have said the court of appeals is where policy is made,” he said before launching a flurry of questions “What do you really believe? That there really is no law? That judges do not make law? Or there is no real law and the court of appeals is where policy is made?”
The forceful tone was not limited to the members of the Republican minority.
When she dodged Sen. Herb Kohl’s, D-Wisc., request for her opinion on a 2005 Supreme Court ruling allowing private property to be seized for public benefit with the comment “[the decision] is now a precedent of the court. I must follow it,” Kohl shot back, saying ““I ask you to express your opinion assuming you become a Supreme Court Justice.” Sotomayor refused to give ground, saying she could not comment as though she were a justice because “I don’t prejudge issues.”
"Empathy" and sympathy again came under attack, first with Sessions reiterating his concerns from Monday about what he sees as the judge's willingness to be biased. Citing Sotomayor’s statements about how heritage and experience can inform court decisions, Sessions said “that troubles me as a lawyer,” adding “how is it appropriate for a judge to ever say they will choose to see some facts and not others?”
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., also pushed the issue, saying Sotomayor’s speeches worry him because they do not indicate there is anything wrong with allowing personal experiences to influence her decisions.
Sotomayor, President Barack Obama's first nominee to the high court, said life experiences enrich the legal system and “all of my decisions show my respect for the rule of law.”
Both Leahy and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. said the judge's track record, not her speeches, are what should be under examination.
“She has shown that she is a mainstream judge,” Leahy said during a break, adding later in the session that Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. said during his confirmation hearings that he couldn’t help but be shaped by his family’s immigrant experience and thinks of it when he reviewed such cases.
Schumer ran through a number of cases in which Sotomayor ruled against families seeking damages after a plane crash and against corrections officers who alleged discrimination.
“ How did you feel ruling against individuals who had clearly suffered a profound loss and tragedy?” Schumer asked. Sotomayor responded, “Those personal senses can’t command the result in a case. As a judge, I serve a greater interest and that greater interest is what the rule of law supplies."
Senators pressed on with questions into the early evening and then adjourned. The hearings resume Wednesday on Capitol Hill.