Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sotmayor Confirmation Hearings: Day Two

It’s day two for Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. The question and answer session was more interesting than yesterday’s hearings when Senators rambled on for several hours. Here are some thoughts:

1. Tough questions came from Democrats

This started with Senator Leahy (D-Vermont), who asked Sotomayor about her wise Latina remarks, which I have written about extensively. Sotomayor said she believed that no racial group had a better capacity for fair judging. Leahy also asked her about her decision in the Ricci case, and she insisted that she simply upheld precedent. She was also asked about Roe vs. Wade by Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin).

2. Sotomayor handled concern about her impartiality well

Senator Sessions (R-Alabama) and Senator Kyl (R-Arizona) quoted several statements from Sotomayor and asked her whether he could trust her to be fair to all litigants. Sotomayor was merely being honest when she said that life experiences and feelings influence judges. But she did stress that at the end of the day, she would apply the law and work to transcend her feelings. Some of the statements she made, while true, were not smart for a SCOTUS nominee to make. But she did the best she could to paper over them over.

3. No light shed on controversial issues

On Roe vs. Wade for example, Sotomayor said that it is “settled precedent.” Some commentators are making a lot of this. But John Roberts and Samuel Alito said the same thing during their confirmation hearings. Will they uphold Roe? I have my doubts. The difference here is that Sotomayor was nominated by a pro-choice Democrat. One assumes President Obama had a discussion with her on this issue, but who knows? Sotomayor even added (I’m paraphrasing) “all precedents are settled law.” That tells us next to nothing

4. Little coverage of economic issues

On issues like imminent domain and the commerce clause, MSNBC and FOX often had analysts talk or cut to commercial. These issues aren’t as interesting per se as abortion or affirmative action, but they’re just as important.

Overall: I don’t think anything happened today which will alter the dynamics of this process. There are 60 Democratic votes in the Senate. She’ll get confirmed barring something a meltdown, as Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) said yesterday. No such meltdown occurred.

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