Monday, July 13, 2009

Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings: Day One

Today saw the start of Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. I wanted to provide my reactions to them.

First, I was struck by the opening statements and their focus on judicial activism. Democrats said that Justice Roberts and his court was activist. They pointed to decisions like Heller vs. DC. Republicans for their part pointed to decisions like Roe vs. Wade. These hearings have become a forum for Senators to complain about every decision or Justice they haven’t liked.

Several Republicans also said they were concerned about President Obama’s statements on the importance of empathy on the bench. They said they wanted the law to inform decisions, not a person’s biases or personal opinions.

I find most of this to be posturing. I think politicians of both parties are fine with “judicial activism” or “empathy” if it yields results they like. Plenty of conservatives would be more than happy if “empathy” caused justices to overturn Roe vs. Wade, or strike down limits on campaign financing. If the Supreme Court issues a decision you disagree with, it becomes “judicial activism.”

While Sotomayor has been criticized for saying that life experience affects decisions, I haven’t heard any evidence that this isn’t the case. There is no such thing as complete objectivity in the justice system. If there were, then we wouldn’t have so many 5-4 decisions. Different people apply differing philosophies and see the facts of a case differently.

To be sure, judges should try and check those biases. And so it’s fair for Senators to go through her judicial history to see if she has consistently been unfair to certain litigants. But I hate it when people on either side of the aisle claim that rulings they like are objective, while rulings they dislike are automatically unfair or biased.

For the most part, today was devoid of a lot of substance. Everyone praised her American story multiple times. Republicans said they were troubled by her. Democrats said she would make a fine justice. That was all to be expected. I look forward to covering tomorrow’s hearings.

No comments:

Post a Comment