New thread on Sotomayor confirmation hearings

Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings ended today. I hardly watched any of it on tv, but I got the highlights from David Waldman’s liveblogging at Congress Matters: Wednesday morning session, Wednesday afternoon session, Thursday morning session, and Thursday afternoon session.

On Wednesday Senator Chuck Grassley had a contentious exchange with Judge Sotomayor regarding a 1972 case on same-sex marriage. Tom Beaumont posted the transcript at the Des Moines Register site. Sotomayor read the case last night and answered more questions from Grassley about it today. I posted an excerpt from the transcript after the jump.

According to MSNBC reporter Norah O’Donnell, Grassley told her today that his constituents are “pretty unanimous against her,” referring to Sotomayor. On what basis can he make that claim? I don’t doubt that wingnuts have been working his phone lines, but I hope he doesn’t expect anyone to believe that Iowans overwhelmingly oppose the confirmation of this extremely intelligent and qualified judge.

Questioning of Sotomayor concluded this morning, and outside witnesses testified this afternoon. Republicans brought in New Haven firefighter Frank Ricci. His story has become a focal point for opponents of Sotomayor, because the Supreme Court recently found in his favor in a 5-4 decision that overruled a 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals decision involving Sotomayor. (Of course, Sotomayor’s critics don’t acknowledge the bigger picture of her rulings in race-related cases.)

It turns out that Ricci’s quite the veteran of employment lawsuits. He sued the city of New Haven in 1995, claiming that he was discriminated against because of his dyslexia, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ricci also went to court to fight his 1998 dismissal from Middletown’s South Fire District. TPM-DC’s Brian Beutler observed,

[Ricci’s] views on jurisprudence seem to begin and end with the proposition that legal protections against discrimination are great when they work in his favor, and unconscionable when they don’t.

I don’t have a problem with people defending their rights in court, but Ricci was hardly the reluctant litigant some conservatives have made him out to be. Also, it’s worth noting that whether or not Ricci was treated unfairly, the position Sotomayor took in the Ricci case

is an act of judicial restraint. The Second Circuit panel, which included Judge Sonia Sotomayor, deferred to a decision of the elected officials of the City of New Haven. Whether the decision was correct or incorrect, it was decidedly the opposite of judicial activism.

In fact, the five conservative Supreme Court judges who overturned the lower court ruling in Ricci were engaging in judicial activism.

Share any thoughts about the confirmation process in this thread. How many Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote to confirm Sotomayor?

UPDATE: MyDD user bruh3 has a good response to Grassley’s line of questioning on that 1972 decision. and it’s just a guess, is that Grassley has been hearing from a lot of evangelicals about gay marriage in recent months. They were already mad at him last year for questioning the tax-exempt status of some televangelists. Then Grassley’s reaction to the Varnum v Brien decision was found wanting by many Iowa social conservatives. I suspect he wanted to make a show of grilling Judge Sotomayor on this issue.

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Grassley lectures Sotomayor on judge's role

UPDATE: Sotomayor discussed her judicial philosophy in her opening statement to the committee. Talking Points Memo posted excerpts from all the senators’ opening statements.

The Senate Judiciary Committee began Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings today, and Radio Iowa has Senator Chuck Grassley’s opening statement. He gave quite the lecture about “judicial restraint” as opposed to “President Obama’s ’empathy’ standard.”

An excerpt is after the jump, along with some analysis of Grassley’s selective concern about empathy and so-called activist judges.

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Now *that* was mindless obstruction

I got a chuckle out of Thomas Beaumont’s article in today’s Des Moines Register, “Reason for vote against judge still eludes Grassley”:

Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley said Wednesday he still cannot recall why he opposed Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation to a federal appeals court judgeship 11 years ago, even after searching the Congressional Record for answers. […]

“I want to know why myself. I probably want to know why more than you want to know why,” Grassley told reporters Wednesday when pressed to explain his past votes against Sotomayor.

“But we’ve looked in the record of the committee and the Congressional Record and there’s no statement by me. So, I don’t know why,” he added.

Grassley was one of three Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee and 29 in the Senate to vote against Sotomayor’s confirmation to the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals in New York.

Grassley’s memory lapse prompted me to search for reports on the reasons some Senate Republicans opposed Sotomayor in 1998. I could not find any articles discussing controversial decisions she had made as a district court judge.

I also learned that Sotomayor gave a speech in 1994 containing a statement about a “wise woman” that is similar to her 2001 remark that conservative commentators have been flogging. Greg Sargent reported that “though the 1994 speech was disclosed to Republican Senators as part of her confirmation for Court of Appeals in 1998, there’s no sign that anyone objected to it in any way.”

So, why did Grassley and 28 other Republican Senators vote against Sotomayor in 1998? My hunch is that the reason Grassley didn’t enter a speech into the Congressional Record at the time is the same reason I can’t find any reporting on the grounds for opposition to her: Republicans had no legitimate beef with her qualifications or her judicial rulings.

An article by Paul West of the Baltimore Sun supports my hypothesis:

President Bill Clinton’s 1997 nomination of Sotomayor to the nation’s second highest court was held up for a year by Senate Republican blocking tactics. At the time, analysts said that Republicans did not want her confirmation to go forward because it would put her in line for a Supreme Court seat.

That’s the kind of reason I’d want to forget too if I were Grassley.

Senate Republicans used similar blocking tactics against many of Clinton’s nominees, hoping to run out the clock on his presidency. They later complained about Democratic “obstruction” of judicial appointments, but at least Democrats gave reasons for opposing the worst George W. Bush nominees (for instance, judicial philosophy or specific decisions as lower-court judges).

To his credit, Grassley told reporters on yesterday’s call that he is going into Judge Sotomayor’s upcoming confirmation hearings with an open mind. Not that it matters, because Senate Republicans already know that they don’t have the votes to block her elevation to the Supreme Court.

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