Judging Sonia Sotomayor?
The confirmation hearings for Judge Sotomayor before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee have concluded. Her confirmation now appears to be a foregone conclusion.
As the smoke clears, here are five things that I took away from the hearings:
1. Stephen Carter’s book title “The Confirmation Mess,” still succinctly summarizes the confirmation process for a Supreme Court Justice. The process – with Senators asking questions without listening to answers and nominees cowed from fully developing their judicial philosophies — is an incredible exercise in tedium and wastefulness. We learn more about the nominee from how he or she responds to the circus-like atmosphere than we do from the substance of the answers to the questions.
2. Latinos still face hurdles in being fully accepted in the public sphere in U.S. society. The Senators seemed flummoxed at times with the proper treatment to afford a Latino candidate given their lack of experience with one as a nominee for the highest Court in the land. For example, Senator Coburn’s reference to Judge Sotomayor having some “splaining to do,” a reference to a line of a stereotypical Cuban-American (not Puerto Rican) sitcom star from the 1960s, amazes me. (If I were to say something like this to a job applicant, an employment discrimination claim would soon be coming.). Similarly, the persistent demonization of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, a mainstream Latino civil rights organization, by the Republican members of the Judiciary Committee was deeply troubling. With an African American candidate, can we imagine a reference to Sanford & Son or attacks on the NAACP Inc. Fund (or the Federalist Society, the arch-conservative group that promoted Justices Scalia and Alito as well as Chief Justice Roberts) ? I think not. Even the attacks on Thurgood Marshall in 1967 were more subtle in certain respects than those on Judge Sotomayor.
3. Judge Sotomayor is a judge in the mainstream of American judges. She judges by the book. From the beginning of the hearings when she emphasized her commitment to the rule of law and her view of the rule of law as applying the law to the facts, not making law, Judge Sotomayor showed that, like previous nominees, she knows and accepts the appropriate role of judges. Her 17 years of judging demonstrate that Judge Sotomayor is a “judge’s judge,” a characteristic that none of the Senators placed in question in the four days of hearings.
4. Judge Sotomayor has the temperament to be a Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Tapping into long-held stereotypes of the “hot blooded” Latino (like Ricky Ricardo, see above), some questioned Judge Sotomayor’s judicial temperament. The only evidence of any temperament issues was that she was an aggressive questioning at oral argument and a handful of lawyers criticized her in anonymous evaluations. The fact that Judge Sotomayor could put up with four days of questions, many bordering on the ridiculous, while taking each and every one as seriously as the last, demonstrated a patience that, in my estimation, was most impressive. She was unflappable in answering the questions, refused to allow some of the Senators to put words in her mouth, and stuck to her guns. It was a most impressive performance. And, I have little doubt that she will be more generous to advocates in the Supreme Court than some sitting Justices.
5. When she is confirmed, the nation as a whole should be proud that Sonia Sotomayor – and her incredible life story – made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.