Thursday, July 16, 2009

Legal Brief: Sotomayor Hearing Day 4

The following exchange between Judge Sotomayor and our good friend Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC, serves to summarize today's hearing:

GRAHAM: You have, I think, consistently, as an advocate, took a point of view that was left of center. You have, as a judge, been generally in the mainstream.  

The Ricci case, you missed one of the biggest issues in the country or you took a pass. I don't know what it is. But I am going to say this, that, as Senator Feinstein said, you have come a long way. You have worked very hard. You have earned the respect of Ken Starr. And I would like to put his statement in the record.

And you have said some things that just bugged the hell out of me.

The last question on the "wise Latina woman" comment. To those who may be bothered by that, what do you say?

SOTOMAYOR: I regret that I have offended some people. I believe that my life demonstrates that that was not my intent to leave the impression that some have taken from my words.

GRAHAM: You know what, Judge? I agree with you. Good luck.


The Huffington Post did a remarkable summary, including video, of the best moments of today's hearing, and I don't wish to reinvent a superb blog entry.

Read it HERE.

Full transcript of the hearings HERE.

Live video of hearings HERE.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Judging the Judge: Day 2 of the Sotomayor Hearings

Hearings for the Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor continued today, with senators beginning the meat-and-potatoes of the hearings: questions.

Senator Patrick Leahy, D-VT, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, started the proceedings with a question about the Second Amendment, a topic on which Sotomayor continued to field questions throughout the day. "I've owned firearms since my early teen years," Leahy said. "I suspect a large majority of Vermonters do. I enjoy target shooting on a very regular basis at our home in Vermont." He asked about the distinction regarding whether Second Amendment rights are "fundamental" or "personal" (apparently, there's a difference) but overall got through his questions without incident.

All the Republican senators continued to attempt to paint Sotomayor as an activist judge who made rulings based upon her personal biases. Senator Jeff Sessions, R-AL, got in some trouble with his aggressive questioning, but Senator Jon Kyl, R-AZ, seemed to really get to the heart of all the allegations against the Judge and for the first time, Sotomayor responded directly to the "wise Latina" comment. 

"The words I chose, taking the rhetorical flourish, it was a bad idea," she said. " I do understand that there are some who have read this differently, and I understand why they might have concern.

"But I have repeated -- more than once -- and I will repeat throughout, if you look at my history on the bench, you will know that I do not believe that any ethnic, gender or race group has an advantage in sound judging. You noted that my speech actually said that. And I also believe that every person, regardless of their background and life experiences, can be good and wise judges."

Kyl respectfully accepted this.

But Senator Orrin Hatch wins the Most Awkward Questioning award. He, like many of his other colleagues, decided to talk about the second amendment, and got into a very detailed discussion with Sotomayor regarding Maloney v. Cuomo:

HATCH: As a result of this very permissive legal standard -- and it is permissive -- doesn't your decision in Maloney mean that virtually any state or local weapons ban would be permissible?

SOTOMAYOR: Sir, in Maloney, we were talking about nunchuk sticks.

HATCH: I understand.

SOTOMAYOR: Those are martial arts sticks.

HATCH: Two sticks bound together by rawhide or some sort of a...

SOTOMAYOR: Exactly. And -- and when the sticks are swung, which is what you do with them, if there's anybody near you, you're going to be seriously injured, because that swinging mechanism can break arms, it can bust someone's skull –

HATCH: Sure.

He finished it off with, "I want you to know I've appreciated this little time we've had together."

And yet, even Hatch's nunchuks could not compare to Senator Grassley's reaction when a protester began shouting during one of Sotomayor's reponses to Grassley's questions.

Senator Leahy, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, banged his gavel right away and said, "Officer, remove that man immediately. We will stand in order – Officers, you will remove that man!" (The officers removed the man.)

Leahy joined in the audience's laughter. He reiterated his mantra of respect and order in the court, then turned to Senator Grassley again. "Senator Grassley, we did stop the clock, so it did not take away from your time."

Grassley responded, "Thank you. People always say I have the ability to turn people on."

Understandably, it took a couple minutes for the giggles over that one to die down, and even Sotomayor, wiping the tears from her eyes, said, laughing, "I hope I remember where we were."

Despite momentary lapses in etiquette, general tranquility, and (in some cases) sanity, there seemed to be a camaraderie forming between Sotomayor and the senators, even those who will likely vote against her. The relative civility in what could be a terribly chaotic process of choosing a Supreme Court Justice, involving all three branches of government, speaks well of our legislative and judicial system. We may not all agree that citizens should be allowed to swing numchuks around the Washington D.C. greater metropolitan area, but at least we're not in Iran.

Read the full transcript HERE. Watch the hearings live if you can wake up at 6:30am Pacific Time.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Who Wants to Be a Supreme Court Justice? Part I

Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's nominee to replace Justice David Souter on the United States Supreme Court, today endured the first of what will be many days of confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. [This is the lady who, if confirmed, will have the power to make decisions on such sizzling issues as abortion, stem-cell research, and perhaps even gay marriage.]

Each Senator on the committee made an opening statement, with Senator Patrick Leahy, D-VT, presiding over an assembly of 19 lawmakers. These included our very own Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, Arlen Specter, Republican-turned-Democrat-because-his-reelection-chances-were-higher-PA, and Al Franken, D-MN, who drew some appreciative laughter with his remark, "As most of you know, this is my fifth day in office."

Sotomayor's now-famous "wise Latina" remark  got an indecent amount of airtime, mostly in opening statements from Republicans, almost all of whom voiced "concerns" with Sotomayor's comments which suggest a bias towards certain groups. Some GOP senators even criticized President Obama for his advocacy on behalf of "judicial empathy." However, Lindsey Graham, R-SC, said in his opening statement, "Unless you have a complete meltdown, you are going to be confirmed."

Graham's opening statement was, in my opinion, rather garbled and certainly heavy in folksy language. He started off on the right foot with "No Republican would have chosen you, Judge; that's just the way it is." He proceeded to reference conservative Judge Miguel Estrada, a Honduran immigrant whom George W. Bush nominated to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2001. Graham seemed to be trying to make the point that because there exist both conservative and liberal Hispanic justices, Judge Sotomayor's ethnicity is not the issue at hand; rather, it is a question of Republican vs. Democratic ideals, but managed to pour out a stream of vaguely ethnically insensitive phrases.

Judge Sotomayor also made a brief opening statement. In the face of so many allegations concerning her impartiality and bias, she stated, "In the past month, many Senators have asked me about my judicial philosophy.  It is simple: fidelity to the law."

Much much more will come on this topic as hearings continue and this blog will include updates and summaries throughout the week. Watch the hearings live on C-SPAN.