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Posted by on Jul 12, 2009 in Media, Politics, Society | 2 comments

On the Eve of Sotomayor’s Confirmation Hearings: Preparation, Strategy and Expectations

On the eve of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings, there have been several reports in the major newspapers on her preparations for the hearings; on strategies by both parties; and on how the hearings are expected to proceed and conclude.

For example, on the preparations:

The Washington Post:

Slated to become the country’s first Hispanic justice, Sotomayor has spent long hours in a cramped conference room on the third floor of the Old Executive Office Building, her fractured ankle propped on a trash can as lawyers took turns peppering her with questions.

The goal of the briefings…is to ready Sotomayor for her first public response to Republican charges of bias in her legal philosophy and to defend the president’s vision of a judiciary that leavens the rule of law with empathy for real-life consequences.

According to the New York Times:

For more than a week, and for a few hours each day Ms. Sotomayor has sat in a small conference room in a building adjacent to the White House, rehearsing with Obama administration lawyers who are volleying questions at her, poring over briefing books and reviewing cases that came before her as a judge.

On strategies:

The Washington Post:

…Republican lawmakers and conservative strategists say the seven GOP members of the Judiciary Committee will press Sotomayor on issues that appeal to their conservative base — such as gun owners’ rights, property rights, the use of international law in deciding cases — while trying to build a case that Sotomayor’s political views influence her decision-making on the bench…

Republican questions will be aimed primarily at Sotomayor. But the hearings may also be used to debate Obama’s intention for reshaping a court that may well see more vacancies during his tenure…

The ranking minority member of the committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) promises that Republicans will not launch personal attacks on Sotomayor. “It will be focused on her views and writings. I will ask her if she agrees with the opinions of the organizations she supported,” Sessions said Friday. We’ll see.

The New York Times:

Senators are planning to ask about politically charged issues — abortion, race, gay rights, foreign law and the Second Amendment — and the nominee will probably answer only a predictable few. Judge Sotomayor will have little reason to deviate from the convention, with perhaps one exception, to explain how her background would influence her work as a justice…

Here is the basic script: the nominee is expected to praise Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 decision barring segregation in public schools; endorse a constitutional right to privacy without saying whether it extends to abortion; and deplore cases like Dred Scott, the 1857 decision that said black people could be property but not citizens, and Korematsu v. United States, the 1944 decision endorsing internment camps for people of Japanese ancestry during World War II…

When senators question her about divisive issues likely to reach the Supreme Court in the next few years, Judge Sotomayor will probably say she cannot comment on matters that she might one day rule on. She may invoke the phrase Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used at her hearings in 1993: “no hints, no forecasts, no previews” about how she would rule as a justice.

The title of the Times’ piece itself gives away an important strategy: “Path to Supreme Court: Speak Capably, Say Little.”

According to the Times, “One theory among Congressional Democrats is that Republican senators will ‘run out of gas’ very quickly and have little appetite for a continued attack on her qualifications as the week wears on.” However, “Others believe Republicans will try to portray Sotomayor as a judge whose writings and court decisions suggest a bias.”

And, naturally, there will be questioning and high drama on the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the New Haven firefighters case, whether Sotomayor’s richness of life experiences will be an asset or a detriment to the Court, and of course her 2001 “wise Latina woman” comment…

And then there is the “foot issue.” According to the Post:

Sotomayor’s injured ankle will play a bit part in the hearings, adding to the political theater. The foot remains in a cast and must be kept elevated to prevent it from swelling, particularly late in the afternoon…As a result, the committee is preparing a special table for the hearings that will allow her foot to be raised during the questioning.

David J. Garrow, a University of Cambridge historian perhaps said it best: “It will be a slightly different cast of characters performing a set piece drama we have seen many times before.”

Finally, on expectations, an Editorial in today’s Austin American-Statesman, “A gantlet of arguments ahead,” hit the nail right on the head:

Barring a major bombshell, Sotomayor, now a federal appeals court judge in New York, will get the votes she needs out of committee to set up a confirmation from the full Senate.

Before that, however, players in the political drama will take full advantage to play to their power bases so that their approbation or objection to the judge’s nomination will be widely distributed…

Hypocritical as it is, that’s the system. And even given the hypocrisy, it’s not all bad.

Neither Princeton nor the federal bench is known as a breeding ground for humility, so it might even be healthy for the judge to listen to reasonable opposition to her nomination.

The process will lose credibility, though, if hijacked by distortion, hysteria and just plain bigotry. We have seen plenty of examples of all those….

Judiciary committee members should set an example of civility and respect as they handle Sotomayor. They are participating in history, after all, and don’t want to go down as narrow-minded partisans bent on putting on a show with no substance.

Well said, Statesman. Now, let the hearings begin.

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