Overview of Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings, and What's Next?

Our analysis of Day 1 of the Sotomayor hearings provided some insight into the questioning that occurred as the rest of the week evolved.  As was to be expected, the Senators belonging to the party of the nominating President (except for Arlen Specter) generally highlighted the nominee’s impartiality as a judge and her other personal accomplishments, while the Senators of the opposing party used the hearings to question the nominee’s “ideology” and “impartiality” – in this case, her “empathy.”  And as usual, the very qualified nominee kept a firm stance, rooted in her expert knowledge of the law. 

In spite of the great controversy surrounding Judge Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” comment, a wise Latina she proved to be over this past week.  It is truly of note that until Judge Sotomayor’s nomination, the adjective paired with “Latina” was usually “fiery,” “curvy,” or some derivation thereof – but rarely “wise.”  But the “caliente” sparks that usually accompany a “Latina” in pop culture never appeared – even in the face of questioning that at times bordered on offensive.  Judge Sotomayor patiently listened to a litany of names she has been called by an “anonymous” colleague during questioning by Sen. Graham; she quietly and carefully responded to loaded “gotcha” questions by Sen. Coburn; and she remained cool and collected as Sen. Sessions continued to grill her about the implications of a “wise Latina,” and how her “empathy” affects her judgment.  Through it all she was always composed and never engaged the Senators, for example, by bringing up the fact that a past nominee, Justice Alito, had similarly highlighted that his immigrant background informed his life experience in the same way she had tried  – albeit inartfully – to explain. 

She patiently responded to every question about abortion, gun rights, privacy, the role of Congress vs. Judiciary, and same-sex marriage that was repeated, and repeated, ad nauseum.  As a result, she disarmed all Senators on the Judiciary Committee.  Even those who would want to oppose her, admitted to her dominion of the law and recognized that her record as a judge demonstrates impartiality.  Sen. Graham went so far as to hint during the hearings that he intends to vote for Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation, as did Sen. Hatch and Sen. Lugar.    

Now the big question is what’s next?  How many votes are there for Sotomayor?  First, we have the Judiciary Committee vote on Judge Sotomayor’s nomination scheduled for Tuesday, July 21.  It is reported that Republican members of the committee feel they “need more time,” to have some questions answered, although it is unlikely that the vote will be postponed more than one or two days – particularly because these members have had almost exactly the same number of days to review this nomination that were allotted for review of the Justice Roberts nomination.  By all accounts, the full Senate vote will most likely take place before the August recess, and Republicans have made statements against having a filibuster. 

As of today, the Republicans who have officially come out in support of Judge Sotomayor’s nomination are:  Sen. Mel Martinez (FL), Sen. Dick Lugar (IN) (Lugar Statement of Support), and Sen. Olympia Snowe.

At the end of all this, I think one of the greatest contributions of these hearings – and of Judge Sotomayor’s poise, strength, and her intellect – is this idea of the “wise” Latina, which was unknown to many in the U.S. until now.  Now they know the kind of “wise” Latina that I have known all my life, in so many different people – the “wise Latina” I see in my grandmother, when she tells her grandchildren in Spanish that “flies don’t go into open mouths” (i.e., be discreet), the “wise Latina” that my mother has been, teaching me everything from manners, to work ethic, to – you guessed it – empathy.  These women are not only judges, they are our mothers, our sisters, our cousins, our mentors; they are businesswomen, homemakers, doctors…the list is interminable.  Not that I am bothered by curves or lipstick, but I am so proud that – thanks to Judge Sotomayor – the world now knows, or better understands, in a more meaningful way what being “Latina” means to us.