Sonia Sotomayor

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. 

On Sotomayor

As Dan wrote earlier a quote of mine is running in a thoughtful Dan Balz piece running on the Washington Post's website.  As it was slightly edited from what I sent him, I offer up the original statement: 

The President's naming of Sotomayor is a smart acknowledgement of how the nation is changing.   Driven to a great degree by Hispanic immigration over the past generation, the nation is on track to be a majority minority country by 2042, and is already one third non-white today.  
This changing racial and demographic makeup of America is one of the most profound structural transformations happening in our country today.  Democrats have consistently shown a deep understanding of these changes, and working hard to fashion a new politics to accomodate and speak to the new America of the 21st century.  National Republicans, on the other hand, seems to be resisting these inexorable changes in ways that could make them a minority party for a long time to come.  If during the next few weeks the Republicans appear to be playing politics with race rather than raising legitimate issues about Sotomajor's judicial approach it could reinforce the deep impression that the Republican Party's anarchonistic and intolerant approach to race and diversity is making them less capable of leading a very different and more racially diverse America of the early 21st century.  

For more see this recent backgrounder on Sotomayor and race we released a few weeks ago.

Day 1 of Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings: Political Theatre, A Verdict on Who Embraces the 21st Century

While Republicans are trying to figure out how to plausibly attack Judge Sonia Sotomayor for her "empathy," the Governor of Virginia and Chairman of the Democratic National Committee DNC taped this message in English and Spanish to explain the importance of this Supreme Court nominee.  

As Simon recently stated in a Washington Post article, the Democratic Party has been far more deft at capitalizing on the nation's changing demographics and he has called the Sotomayor nomination another example of the party's recognition of the fact that America will soon be a majority-minority nation.

Watching this video leads me to think several things, particularly as I watch it in conjunction with the Sotomayor hearing:  1) President Obama demonstrates once again how seriously he takes the vote of the Hispanic demographic by having named a man who speaks fluent Spanish and began his career in public service in Honduras as the Chairman of the DNC; 2) there is such a harsh, almost abrasive distinction between the ranting of Sen. Jeff Sessions and this positive message by Gov. Kaine. 

Watching Sen. Sessions, one would think that "empathy" is all of a sudden a vile thing to have - his ranting just shows him as cold and out of touch. 

Using his new code word of "empathy," by saying the judiciary is at a "dangerous crossroads," Sessions did everything but call Judge Sotomayor a "racist."  It is telling that all of the criticism of Sotomayor heard today had nothing to do with her judicial record, and everything to do with Republican "empathy" and subjectivity.  Sessions attempted to veil his attacks by throwing out an amendment here and there, claiming that Judge Sotomayor's decisions aimed to "eviscerate the 2nd amendment," making abortion "easier" and "taking private property." 

In reality, the gun-related case Sotomayor reviewed had to do with a ban in New York on a popular gang weapon known as a "nunchaku." The court upheld the state ban, judging that the the 2nd amendment entails an individual right, which has different legal implications than a "fundamental" right (but how could Sessions know).  In that case, Sotomayor and the panel affirmed the Supreme Court decision on a D.C. gun ban stating that "It is settled law . . . that the 2nd Amendment applies only to limitations the federal government seeks to impose on this right," not individual state rights.

In regards to abortion, the only somewhat related case Sotomayor has ruled on was a case to review the Hyde amendment, in which her opinion upheld the ban on using federal funds to pay for abortion procedures.  Lastly, Sessions might not know of this thing called "eminent domain," which allows for the seizure of private property under very specific terms and with compensation - in that case, yet again, Sotomayor upheld the strict terms of the law. 

As Simon said, "If during the next few weeks the Republicans appear to be playing politics with race rather than raising legitimate issues about Sotomayor's judicial approach it could reinforce the deep impression that the Republican Party's anachronistic and intolerant approach to race and diversity is making them less capable of leading a very different and more racially diverse America of the early 21st century."  

Tuesday Buzz: Simon on Sotomayor's Selection, Millennials May Doom the GOP, Obama Finds the Middle

Simon's statement today on the selection of Sonia Sotomayor was featured in the Chicago Tribune. Here's an excerpt from the article: 

"President Obama's pick of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to serve on the Supreme Court is an acknowledgement and affirmation of the great demographic changes taking place in America today,'' says Simon Rosenberg, president of New Democrat Network.

"Driven by years of immigration, our nation is going through profound change,'' he suggests today. "The percentage of people of color in the United States has tripled in just the past 45 years, and America is now on track become a majority-minority nation in the next 30-40 years.

"The movement of our nation from a majority white to a more racially complex society is perhaps the single greatest societal change taking place in our great nation today,'' he suggests.

"And if the Supreme Court is to have the societal legitimacy required to do its work, its justices must reflect and speak to the people of America of the 21st Century,'' he says.

"The pick of Judge Sotomayor, a highly qualified, twice-Senate confirmed Latina to serve as one of the nine judges overseeing our judicial system, will not only put a thoughtful and highly experienced judge on the Supreme Court, it will go a long way toward making the Supreme Court one that can truly represent the new people and new realities of 21st Century America."

Rob was quoted in a national Associated Press story about Obama's move toward the center on some issues:

Rob Shapiro, a former economic adviser to President Bill Clinton, said Obama's winning of congressional support for the $787 billion economic stimulus plan soon after taking office, mostly on terms he wanted, remains a major achievement.

The next crucial test will be whether Obama can make progress on health care overhaul, a signature proposal for his first term, said Shapiro, now with NDN, a centrist think tank formerly known as the New Democratic Network. Some of the other issues matter less, since presidents rarely get everything they want even from a Congress controlled by their own party, he said.

"Obama calls himself a pragmatist. That often ends up with fairly centrist policies," Shapiro said. "In the end, the progressives, the left in Congress, will support the president even on getting a half loaf in health care rather than a full loaf," he added.

Finally, Morley and Mike's recent LA Times Op-Ed was re-published in The Oregonian this week, and was also featured in The Arizona Republic, DailyKos and MyDD.

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