9:01: Leahy asks a question about the incorporation of the 2d Amendment, and Sotomayor makes it clear that, as a Supreme Court Justice, she would have an open mind about it, although as a Court of Appeals judge she saw herself bound to a precedent. Leahy asks about a federal statute that had been challenged as exceeding the commerce power and expresses pleasure at the degree of deference she showed to Congress. Note that in both cases, the Constitution lost out to the power of government, but Leahy and Sotomayor, operating in a smooth dance, made it seem more as though she were exhibiting neutral fidelity to the law — which is, of couse, the theme of these hearings.
9:09: The first mention ever of YouTube in a Supreme Court confirmation hearing, as Sotomayor says her statement — at Duke — that the Court of Appeals is where policy is made needs to be heard in its full context (and not just in that YouTube snippet). She's answering a question from Sessions that invites her to talk about her various famous quotes that have been used to portray her as a judge who is not a humble follower of the law.
9:10: "Life experience has to influence you," Sotomayor says. "We're not robots who don't have feelings. We have to recognize those feelings, and put them aside." I add the italics to indicate dubiousness. Sessions jumps in to remind her that she had said that judges should not deny the difference that come from experience and heritage. Sometimes the "sympathies and prejudices are appropriate." That's a quote from her speech. So when is it appropriate? She says that sometimes "the law" requires it. She is trying to reframe her old remarks so that they mean that the judge is "testing" to make sure that improper emotions are not influencing the decision. It's all about fidelity to law. Sessions points out — and I think he's right — that she's saying the opposite of what she said before.
9:21: Sotomayor makes the powerful statement that her "wise Latina" remark "was bad," that it was an attempt at at a play on something Justice O'Connor had said (that a wise man and a wise woman would reach the same result) and that it "fell flat." The context of her whole speech was to inspire young Hispanic students, to make them feel that their life experiences were a valuable asset. ADDED: So she answered the first of the questions I asked in yesterday's NYT op-ed: "When you said you hoped that 'a wise Latina' would make better judicial decisions, did you mean it as a pleasantry aimed at people who had invited you to speak about diversity or will you now defend the idea that decision-making on the Supreme Court is enhanced by an array of justices representing different backgrounds?" The answer is: It was just a pleasantry that suited the feel-good occasion and not meant to be taken seriously.
9:22: Sessions asks about Ricci. She promised to him, back when she was confirmed as a Court of Appeals judge, that she would apply strict scrutiny to all racial discrimination. Why didn't she want a full hearing on an issue that Judge Cabranes called the most important race discrimination case the 2d Circuit had faced in 20 years? Why did she deal with it "in such a cursory manner"? Sotomayor, unsurprisingly, cites the very careful, thorough district court opinion that her panel had adopted.
9:35: Both Sessions and Sotomayor are terrific, by the way. This is a classic confrontation, at the highest level. It's a real thrill to listen in.
10:28: Senator Hatch takes over. He begins by asking if her adherence to precedent would include the case upholding the ban on partial-birth abortion. She gives a bland answer: precedent is subject to the doctrine of stare decisis. And he moves on! Why not follow up with some questions about when precedent may be overruled and whether she sees that particular precedent as a good candidate for overruling? Maybe some other Senator is set to pursue that line of inquiry and Hatch merely wants to be on record having mentioned it. What he moves on to is: guns.
10:29: Does Sotomayor see 2d Amendment rights as "fundamental" in the sense that means that they are incorporated in the 14th Amendment and thus applicable to the states? Sotomayor participated in a case that said that they were not, but her answer is about whether the Supreme Court had said that they are, so her answer is very much about precedent.
10:47: Hatch gets into the details of Ricci, and both Hatch and Sotomayor are patiently spelling out technical matters. I don't think many in the general audience will keep watching or that anything here will make the news highlights. Again, the topic is precedent. Sotomayor has rested heavily on the existence of precedent and the limitations on the role of a Court of Appeals judge. Hatch is endeavoring to show the ways in which precedent had not foreclosed key details of the case.
11:01: Dianne Feinstein sharply distinguishes Sotomayor from Miguel Estrada. Why compare those two? He had no judicial experience and he refused to answer some questions.
11:03: Feinstein expresses outrage that Sotomayor is portrayed as an activist. She can't possibly "be construed as an activist." She agrees with her colleagues on constitutional matters 98% of the time.
11:09: Now, Feinstein is giving Sotomayor a comfortable but serious opportunity to speak about following precedent in a duly judicial fashion. This is nicely handled by Feinstein, because it doesn't look too softball, but it is gently supportive and designed to make Sotomayor look solid and smart and, above all, dutifully faithful to the law.
11:23: Feinstein says that the Supreme Court, after 60 years of declining to strike down any laws as beyond the commerce power, in the last 3 decades, it has struck down 3 dozen. 3 dozen?! What Supreme Court cases is she talking about? Isn't it more like 3?
11:34: I'll be on Minnesota Public Radio soon, doing a call-in show that will be an hour or so long. Live streaming on-line. Here's the stream, they're having difficulty getting me connected. I'm on now.
1:09: We're back from the lunch break. (I didn't eat lunch. I gabbed on MPR.) Now, Senator Grassley is questioning Sotomayor about property rights, specifically whether Kelo was correctly decided. Sotomayor pays obeisance to property rights, then explains the majority's reasoning in Kelo and her devotion to stare decisis. We don't get an answer to the question whether she'd have voted with the dissenters in Kelo, but I get the cue that she would not.
1:12: Another heckler. Hard to understand what he's yelling, but I think I hear the word "babies" and presume it's another anti-abortion activist.
2:11: Sotomayor disentangles herself from Obama's line about "heart":
[W]hile adherence to legal precedent and rules of statutory or constitutional construction will dispose of 95 percent of the cases that come before a court... what matters on the Supreme Court is those 5 percent of cases that are truly difficult. In those cases, adherence to precedent and rules of construction and interpretation will only get you through the 25th mile of the marathon. That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one's deepest values, one's core concerns, one's broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one's empathy.Sotomayor sticks to her strategy of declaring fidelity to the law. None of this "heart" business for her.
2:20: Jon Kyl is parsing the "Wise Latina" speech, looking at the whole context. She quoted lawprof Judith Resnik's statement that there is no "objective stance" and lawprof Martha Minow's statement that "no neutrality." Kyl says "That sounds to me like relativism." Then she works toward saying that judges from more diverse backgrounds will "make a difference." And "you seem to be celebrating this," not saying, as you said today to Sessions that you were looking to identify it so that you overcome it. She doesn't say anything new or piercing in response, even when Kyl repeats his challenge. I think the truth is that she has backed off from her statement and minimized it as fluff, so, yeah, the inconsistency is there. She's admitted it. What more can she do?
3:06: "We could do this all day long!" Chuck Schumer exclaims in the middle of describing case after case in which Sonia Sotomayor decided against the sympathetic party.
3:26: Lindsey Graham asks her to define and say whether she is: 1. a Legal Realist, 2. a strict constructionist, 3. an originalist. She's none of those things. "What is the best/most legitimate way for a society to change?" Is it by the action of judges? Graham asks this abstract question and quickly focuses on abortion rights. He doesn't really extract an answer from her here.
3:32: Graham blurts out "I like you" and segues into reading a bunch of quotes about her temperament (e.g., she's a "bully"). She says she "asks tough questions at oral argument." Does she have a temperament problem? Ugh! What can she say?! She says she doesn't. Graham drifts on to what he calls her "wise Latino" [sic] remark. Blah blah.
3:40: Graham says that if he'd said he could make better decisions because he's a Caucasian man, the explanation that he was trying to inspire some people, it would not save his career from destruction. Now, he likes the answer that some people deserve a second chance when they misspeak.
3:43: Graham asks what September 11, 2001 meant to her, then inquires whether she believes their are people "out there plotting our destruction." She answers yes. Graham wants to know if, under that circumstance, whether, under the law of war, we can hold members of the enemy force detainees indefinitely. She doesn't have an answer, and he wants her to think about it.
6:20: I had to run off before I could say anything about the last part of Graham's questioning, but it was particularly interesting. He wanted to know about her role on the board of the Puerto Rican Defense Fund, which notably equated the denial of government funding for abortion to slavery. Sotomayor's response was to try to distance herself from the Fund's litigation in particular cases. She was a board member, you see. Sotomayor evaded a lot of things today, didn't she? But I've got to give her credit for consistency here. She has a strategy to disengage from every single controversial thing she's ever been associated with. She's a good little modest judge just like John Roberts, isn't she?