Sotomayor Wins Confirmation to Supreme Court

The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 68-31 Thursday to confirm President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the first  Hispanic on the nation’s highest court.

When she takes the oath Saturday from Chief Justice John Roberts, Sotomayor, 55,  also will become the third woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

A federal judge for 17 years, Sotomayor was lauded by Democrats as fair-minded but accused by Republicans of lacking impartiality, according to a news article by Reuters. She was nominated to replace retired Justice David Souter, and her elevation is not expected to bring a shift in the court’s ideological balance, Reuters reported.

Her journey to the Supreme Court was “unlikely and historic,” starting with her birth in a Bronx, New York housing project and taking her to the nation’s highest bench, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Nine Republican senators supported Sotomayor. Yet  she was confirmed largely along party lines.

Sotomayor’s confirmation vote was the second most divided in the last 16 years. Other confirmation votes were: Samuel Alito Jr., 2005, 58-42; Chief Justice Roberts, 2005, 78-22;  Stephen Breyer, 1994, 87-9; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 1993, 96-3. Four Democrats voted for Alito, and 22 Democrats for Roberts; both justices were nominated by Republican President George W. Bush.

These Republicans voted for Sotomayor’s confirmation: Sens. Lindsey Graham of (more…)

Post Column: Partisanship Over Sotomayor Is Thinly Veiled

Sonia SotomayorIn a column called “The Washington Post‘s Dan Balz recently opined that the “confirmation process remains a central front in the ideological wars between the parties.”

In his estimation, the generally uneventful hearings  reflect the inevitability of Sotomayor’s confirmation (due to a large Democratic majority) and that few expect she will tip the Court’s ideological balance.  Republican senators have also avoided direct attacks on the first Latino nominee to the Supreme Court that might alienate an increasingly important constituency. 

That so many Republicans plan to vote against Sotomayor anyway signals to Balz  that the parties’  polarized bases exert significant influence over the confirmation process. This contrasts markedly with a longstanding norm in which  members of both parties gave great deference to a president’s selections.

In an earlier blog post, we noted that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) lamented this trend and pledged to vote for Sotomayor.  USA Today reports that Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a member of the Republican leadership, also intends to support Sotomayor.  He submitted that “courts were never intended to be political bodies composed of judges ‘on your side’ who would reliably tilt your way in controversial cases.”  That endorsement brings the total among Republicans to six  committed  “yes” votes.

The final vote is expected to take place late next week before the August recess.  Gavel Grab and Justice at Stake’s  twitter page will continue to track the nomination process.

Increasing Signs of Partisanship in Sotomayor Vote

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court today in a near party-line vote of 13-6. Every Democrat sided with her while Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina provided the lone Republican tally in her favor.

Graham said that although he would not have picked her,  the President’s electoral victory earned deference from the Senate, and he reasoned that Sotomayor’s  exemplory qualitfications and mainstream legal record made her “no worse” the David Souter – the Justice she would replace. Graham finished by lamenting the partisanship that has infused the judicial selection process to the detriment of the Court’s image in the eyes of the public.

Despite his statements, he failed to persuade any fellow Republican committee members. Senators Charles Grassley and Orrin Hatch both voted against a Presidential nominee for the first time in their careers.  Hatch announced that he would do so “reluctantly”, noting only that he found her testimony at the initials hearings inconsistent with her prior statements. Senator Grassley hammered this point home  by contrasting  quotes from her speeches with her testimony before the Committee. He also admitted eleswhere that his “no” vote drew in part from the increasing partisanship in the nominated process.

The vote totals for sitting Supreme Court Justices confirm this striking trend. Unanimity used to be the norm: not one Senator opposed Justices Scalia, Kennedy or Stevens. Even after the controversial failure of Robert Bork’s nomination and near defeat of Justice Thomas’s selection,  President Clinton’s picks faced relatively little trouble.

Those days appear to be gone.  President George W.  Bush’s nominations spurred partisans and interest groups into a pitched battle over the membership of the nation’s highest court. Chief Justice Roberts received a solid 78 votes, but far from the unanimity of days past. Justice Alito managed only a 58-42 tally with only Democrats in favor.

Interest groups have stepped up the pressure. After the initial hearings the NRA announced it would oppose her nomination – the first time it has done so for any nominee.  The partisanship seems destined to be reflected in the final vote, though the sheer number of Democrats means Sotomayor almost certainly will reach the Supreme Court.

The Senate is likely to begin debate on the nomination next week. Check Gavel Grab for updates.

Judge Sotomayor, Some 583 Questions Later

Judge Sonia Sotomayor was asked some 583 questions during the course of four days’  of hearings on Capitol Hill.  What new insights did the country gain about the woman who appears likely to become the nation’s first Hispanic Supreme Court justice?

One theme to emerge from wall-to-wall news media coverage of the hearing last week is that Judge Sotomayor  gave  few clues about her legal philosophy.

In its story, “A mechanic in a black robe,” the Los Angeles Times reported that Sotomayor depicted herself as a judge who would ” stick to precedent and never ‘make law.’ But in doing so she revealed almost nothing about the philosophy that would guide her on the high court.”

Was Sotomayor carefully following a calculated political strategy, the article asked, or was she mirroring the views of a lower-court judge who  had not shaped broader legal views? The answer  remained unclear.

In a  New York Times article, Harvard Law School professor Laurence H. Tribe, an adviser to President Obama, used just one word–“nothing”– to say what the country had learned about Judge Sotomayor’s legal views.  In fact, the week may have been notable for how little the nation learned about her, according to the Times.

With a deliberate delivery, Judge Sotomayor discussed  precedents while declining to take a stand on legal questions that are unsettled, and she insisted she had to keep her mind open about potential future cases.

Despite the shortage of revelations about her legal philosophy, the hearing provided extensive fodder for political commentary. (more…)

Summary of Sotomayor Hearings

 

Sonia Sotomayor has faced lively but generally respectful questioning during her Supreme Court nomination hearings  this week.  The discussion has highlighted a number of topics that can help educate the public about the way our legal system works,  as well as debates over how it should function. A few of these relate directly to Justice at Stake’s mission.

The vital role of an impartial judiciary in our democracy has received significant attention during the hearing. Though much of the discussion draws from Republican skepticism about Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy, all sides seem to agree on what a judge needs to do to remain impartial.  Sotomayor has repeatedly affirmed that political opinions and personal sympathies do not affect her legal opinions. She applies the law to the facts of the case. Senator Sessions  supported her view that a judge must constantly examine her personal feelings about a case to ensure a fair decision.

The subject of diversity on the bench has come up repeatedly in the hearing due to the historic nature of Sotomayor’s nomination. Many Senators have  expressed pride that a Latina may finally gain a spot on the Supreme Court.

Reaction to Sotomayor’s view of her heritage appears to be a mixed bag. Overwhelmingly, the committee seems to support the idea that our  federal judges should reflect the profound diversity of American society. But Senators have grilled the nominee about her widely quoted comment that a “wise Latina woman” somehow might interpret the law more ably than a white man. Sotomayor has felt the need to disown the remark, calling it a “rhetorical flourish that fell flat.” (more…)

Sotomayor Discusses Impartiality, 'Wise Latina' Remark

 

This morning the Senate Judiciary Committee commenced with direct questions for Judge Sotomayor. Senator Sessions’  inquiries spawned an important discussion about impartiality and the judiciary. He explicitly doubted Sotomayor’s commitment to fairly deciding cases in light of her oft-quoted speeches about how her own experience affects her judicial decisions.

Sotomayor admitted that her “wise Latina” comment was an attempt to put a “rhetorical flourish” on a Sandra Day O’Connor quote that “fell flat.”  She tried to put the quote in context. saying she was trying at an event to inspire young Latino students to set high goals,  and to articulate how a judge’s personal experience fits into her line of work.

She defended the assertion that experience effects what facts a judge might see, adding that for this reason they must carefully examine their own feelings about a case to make sure they do not unfairly favor one litigant over another. Both Senator Sessions and Judge Sotomayor agreed this approach is key to maintaining an impartial judiciary, though he questioned her adherence to the principle.

Stay tuned here at Gavel Grab and on twitter for more updates throughout the day.

Sotomayor Hearings: Day 1 Wrap-Up

  

Note: Justice at Stake will continue coverage of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings,  starting Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. To receive all-day updates, click on Justice at Stake’s twitter page, or visit Gavel Grab.

The slew of afternoon statements all came from Democrats because of their overwhelming numerical advantage on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator Klobuchar praised Sotomayor’s varied experience while remarking on the significance of Sotomayor’s nomination, who if confirmed would become the Supreme Court’s first Latina and third female justice. Klobuchar’s fellow Senator from Minnesota, Al Franken, emphasized his respect for Sotomayor’s judicial restraint in a speech that hit his intended mark of appearing serious and engaged. In a unique statement, Senator Specter discussed his intent to talk with Sotomayor about the Supreme Court’s diminishing case load and its increasingly convoluted standards for reviewing congressional legislation.

Finally around 3 p.m.,  Sotomayor had her first chance to speak. She began by taking several minutes to recount her “uniquely American” personal story.  She then directly addressed  Republican concerns about her judicial impartiality  by stating that her legal “decisions have been made not to serve the interests of any one litigants, but always to serve the larger interest of impartial justice.” 

Sotomayor said her  judicial philosophy “is simple: fidelity to the law.”  After a concise eight minutes she thanked the Committee and Senator Leahy’s gavel fell. To see the morning wrap-up for Day 1, click here.

First Morning of Sotomayor Hearing

   

Justice at Stake’s twitter site has kept a close watch on the  first morning of the Sotomayor hearing. So far the proceedings have consisted of opening statements from Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The speeches have struck several common themes.

References to the “judge as umpire” metaphor abounded. Chief Justice John Roberts first made this perspective famous during his his confirmation hearing. Republicans have tended to support this view and questioned Judge Sotomayor’s allegiance to it.  Democrats on the other hand have taken two approaches. Many have rejected it as a poor explanation of what a Supreme Court Judge actually does, while others like  Senator Schumer have suggested that Sotomayor’s record indicates she would be a excellent “umpire.”

President Obama’s statement that a judge should have empathy for the people that come before her has stuck a major chord at the hearing. Echoing the feelings of many Republicans, Ranking member Senator Sessions noted that empathy for one side entailed “prejudice” against another.  However, Republicans kept their comments respectful and directed much of their condemnation at the President. Democrats defended Obama’s position and lauded Sotomayor’s personal story and qualifications, arguing that they would allow help her understand the effects of her decisions on real people.

The quote of the morning, though, goes to Senator Graham who told the nominee that “Unless you have a complete meltdown, you are going to get confirmed.”  He also used his straighforward opening statement to defend  against arguments that Republicans would not support a Latino nomineee. Stayed tuned for the afternoon session to continue shortly.

Sotomayor Hearings: Live JAS Updates Start at 9:30 a.m.

Note: Follow Wednesday’s live updates on Justice at Stake’s Twitter page or here at Gavel Grab. The confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor start today at 9:30 a.m.

A recent analysis of Judge  Sotomayor’s opinions by the Brennan Center calls into question claims that she is an “activist” judge. The report found that when she voted to overturn legislation her Republican-appointed colleagues agreed with her 90% of the time.

But such statistics could find themselves drowned out in a rising tide of partisanship during the hearings, which started Monday. The Ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, just published an op-ed questioning Judge Sotomayor’s impartiality.

The New York Times reports that Republicans hope to bolster this argument by calling New Haven firefighter Frank Ricci as a witness. He recently won a Supreme Court anti-discrimination case overturning a ruling joined by Judge Sotomayor. Democrats plan to counter with former professional baseball player David Cone to credit her for a 1994 decision that “saved” major league baseball.  Both sides will bring a host of legal professionals to help make their cases.

Sotomayor Hearings: Check Here for Updates

Senate hearings begin Monday for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. You can get all-day Justice at Stake updates on Twitter, as well as periodic commentaries on Gavel Grab, Justice at Stake’s daily online journal.

If you’re new to Twitter, this is an amazingly easy way to get brief hearing updates (all 140 characters or less). Just click on Justice at Stake’s Twitter page. You can see new comments as they’re posted, without having to create your own Twitter.com account. If you’re a Twitter veteran, you also can receive text message “tweets” on your cell phone.

Justice at Stake’s “Supreme Court Watch” resource page also provides running updates on media reports and special-interest group activity in support of, and opposition to, Judge Sotomayor’s nomination.