The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor are dragging through their second day, and it’s getting harder to stay awake while watching them. Thus far, not only are there few surprises, but I tend to agree with Ben Pershing at the Washington Post, who has concluded that the Democrats no longer really care if they get a single Republican vote coming out of committee. They know they can get at least a few in the full Senate vote and this was a done deal before it started.
The media is desperately scrambling to find some fireworks here, but it’s falling flat. Yes, Ms. Sotomayor said that Roe v. Wade was “settled law” this morning, but John Roberts said the same thing. The phrase means little any more except that they respect and make note of previous rulings, and the law is “settled” until they decide that it no longer is.
Senator Hatch tried to drum up a bit more excitement by bringing up the 2nd amendment and the Incorporation Doctrine. Knowing full well where the courts stand on the matter traditionally, Hatch took four roundhouse swings at getting the nominee to say that the right to keep and bears arms was not a “fundamental right.” (This is a legal term when it comes to Incorporation doctrine, and not some judgment on which rights are more important than others.) It was a valiant effort, but Sotomayor deftly skipped around it and kept going back to previous rulings of the last two centuries. The effort wound up being a big fizzle.
With so little meat on the media bones here, I was left to ponder some of the less technical aspects of this show. The first item for me is the incredibly scripted nature of it all. Patrick Leahey, far from running an inquisition, seems to be the well prepared host of the new, “Let’s All Celebrate Sonia Sotomayor Day” game show. His comments have come in such a defined order, and the nominee’s responses so quick at hand, full of obscure references, that it’s nearly impossible to believe that those portions weren’t worked out and rehearsed between the two ahead of time.
For the Republican Senators, they are coming more out of left field with some jabs, but the candidate seems to have been rigorously prepared and falls back on the same sets of case law and general ideology, never getting trapped into getting too specific on any point.
The other point of interest was Sotomayor’s manner of speaking. Her writing is quite good, from the decisions I’ve poured through thus far. And that’s important. But hearing her speak, I find myself wondering if that’s the same person talking as the one who wrote the decisions. She’s tentative, using short, choppy sentences with many “um” and “ug” pauses. Of course, being under that particular spotlight could put anyone off their feed, I’m sure.
But I found myself comparing it to another great writer, George Will. When George writes, he uses a lot of “fifty cent words” as my mother used to put it. The difference is, when he speaks – even off the cuff, such as his Sunday morning round table appearances – he’s exactly the same way. He can send many a college graduate scrambling for the dictionary. I found the same thing listening to – for example – both John Robers and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. They speak like they write. With Sotomayor this seems to be missing for some reason.
In the end, though, things look as if they will progress as they need to. Whether or not I find Sotomayor’s performance thrilling isn’t the issue. Barack Obama won the election with the largest mandate from the people we’ve seen since the 80’s. One of that spoils that goes to that particular victor is the right to name their own justices, and he has selected this one. I’ve seen nothing yet to show that she fails to meet the minimum requirements for the position, and as such, she should be confirmed. And at this point, I’m pretty sure she will, and likely with better than 70 votes.