Sotomayor: Day One

It was the first day of confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor.  She didn’t get to say much and it is a good thing she has all that experience on the bench where she learned to listen because the Senators all got to make opening statements.  And when she did speak, she was short and to the point as she talked about her background and her judicial philosophy “assuring senators that she believes a judge’s job “is not to make law” but “to apply the law,” as the two parties used her nomination to debate the role of the judiciary.”

Al Franken made his debut as a Senator,

As most of you know, this is my fifth day in office,” he said, as a few people laughed. He then turned somber, saying that he took his oath of office very seriously.

I thought he was clearly a little nervous as he said he represented the common person, the one who is not a lawyer.

But the real kicker was Senator Jeff Sessions.  I think he resented the fact that he never made it though his district court nonination hearings and now had to be the ranking Republican on a Judiciary Committee about to confirm an Hispanic woman to the Supreme Court.  He came off as a bitter, sour old white guy.

Eugene Robinson writes in this morning’s Washington Post

The only real suspense in the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is whether the Republican Party will persist in tying its fortunes to an anachronistic claim of white male exceptionalism and privilege.

Republicans’ outrage, both real and feigned, at Sotomayor’s musings about how her identity as a “wise Latina” might affect her judicial decisions is based on a flawed assumption: that whiteness and maleness are not themselves facets of a distinct identity. Being white and male is seen instead as a neutral condition, the natural order of things. Any “identity” — black, brown, female, gay, whatever — has to be judged against this supposedly “objective” standard.

Thus it is irrelevant if Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. talks about the impact of his background as the son of Italian immigrants on his rulings — as he did at his confirmation hearings — but unforgivable for Sotomayor to mention that her Puerto Rican family history might be relevant to her work. Thus it is possible for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to say with a straight face that heritage and experience can have no bearing on a judge’s work, as he posited in his opening remarks yesterday, apparently believing that the white male justices he has voted to confirm were somehow devoid of heritage and bereft of experience

Amy Klobuchar captured the diversity issue in a different way in her statement as quote in the New York Times live blog on the hearings

In describing their varied experiences, Ms. Klobuchar notes that sitting near her is Senator Whitehouse, who grew up in Laos and Cambodia as the son of a diplomat while she worked as a carhop at the A&W Root Beer stand. In addition, she pointed out, while Senator Hatch is a gospel music songwriter, Mr. Leahy is quite the Dead-head and once had difficulty taking a call from the president because he was onstage at a Grateful Dead concert.

Eugene Robinson again

The whole point of Sotomayor’s much-maligned “wise Latina” speech was that everyone has a unique personal history — and that this history has to be acknowledged before it can be overcome. Denying the fact of identity makes us vulnerable to its most pernicious effects. This seems self-evident. I don’t see how a political party that refuses to accept this basic principle of diversity can hope to prosper, given that soon there will be no racial or ethnic majority in this country.

There is, after all, a context in which these confirmation hearings take place: The nation continues to take major steps toward fulfilling the promise of its noblest ideals. Barack Obama is our first African American president. Sonia Sotomayor would be only the third woman, and the third member of a minority group, to serve on the nation’s highest court. Aside from these exceptions, the White House and the Supreme Court have been exclusively occupied by white men — who, come to think of it, are also members of a minority group, though they certainly haven’t seen themselves that way.

Judging from Monday’s hearing, some Republican senators are beginning to notice this minority status — and seem a bit touchy about it.

Sotomayor confirmation hearing

Day Two, coming up.

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