Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=136521
Story Retrieval Date: 5/23/2013 9:12:06 AM CST
WASHINGTON -- Cutting through a slew of “no” votes from Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, chose to approve Sonia Sotomayor as a nominee to be a Supreme Court Justice, sending her nomination to the full Senate.
Although Graham tempered his support with comments about how Sotmoayor would not have made his short list of Supreme Court Justice nominees, and that her “speeches did bug the hell out of me,” the senator said he felt compelled to vote for her. His reason: Sotomayor met the same requirements placed on Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader-Ginsburg during their confirmation hearings.
Graham, R-S.C., attacked allegations that Judge Sotomayor was an “activist” judge, then balanced it with a swipe, saying “she can not be worse than [Justice David Souter] from our point of view.”
Graham’s six Republican peers said Sotomayor did not pass muster. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa reeled of a laundry list of reasons the nominee was not suited the high court. Among his objections: he was not satisfied with her “understanding of rights under the Constitution” and he was wary of her ability to be impartial. Justice Souter’s nomination, was also top of mind for the Iowa senator. He said Sotomayor’s answers during the hearing “left a pit in his stomach” similar to the one he feels when he thinks about Justice Souter.
But the committee approved her nomination 13-6, with 12 Democrats voting in lockstep. They praised Sotomayor’s rise from a housing project in the Bronx and also her high academic and professional achievements. “It’s pretty tough to be summa cum laude at Princeton,” Pennsylvania’s onetime Republican, now Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter said.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., took issue with the uproar over the nominee’s “Wise Latina woman,” remark, and asked if a single sentence “can trump a career of 17 years of modest, reasoned, careful decision-making?”
Committee members also rehashed positions on issues that dominated the four days of Sotomayor’s hearing: the right to bear arms, property rights, the New Haven firefighters discrimination case, and, unsurprisingly, the “Wise Latina” comment.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he expects the full Senate to vote on Sotomayor’s nomination before Congress leaves for its August recess.
Gun control not the only issue to roil senators
Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s opinions on gun control,
abortion, and empathy were not the only issues on senators’ minds
during her confirmation hearings. Non-answer answers also grabbed their
On Tuesday, senators from both sides of the aisle called for an end to the “no comment” responses that nominees have been allowed to use when asked how they would rule on a case not yet before the high court, or how they would have ruled on a case that has already been decided.
Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., who voted for Sotomayor’s nomination, said nominees dodge direct questions and reduce the value of these hearings. “I cannot say that I learned everything about Judge Sotomayor that I would have liked to have learned,” he said.
“We need to change the rule for the hearings … they need to really tell us what they think,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
The non-answer answers the senators’ object to litter the hearing transcripts.
One example of the kind of exchange being criticized is the exchange between Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and Sotomayor during the second day of questioning:
Kohl on the Bush-Gore presidential election in 2000: Should the Supreme Court have gotten involved?
Sotomayor: I look at the case and my reaction as a sitting judge is not to criticize it or to challenge it.
Criticism has not been limited to the senators on the committee. The New York Times complained about Sotomayor’s lack of candor and named Robert Bork, who is considered by some to be the inspiration for the non-response because his own failed nomination appeared to be damaged by his candor before the committee.
John C. Harrison, a law
professor at University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville,
clerked for Bork when he served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
District of Columbia. In a phone interview, Harrison said Bork served
as a warning to future nominees to keep their views to themselves.
Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., however, would have none of it, and called the Bork legacy a myth.
Despite garnering Specter’s endorsement, Sotomayor’s performance during the hearings did not get his full support. “One regret I have about Judge Sotomayor’s testimony was her extreme caution,” he said. “The hearings did not produce a whole lot about what judge Sotomayor’s philosophy is.”