Sotomayor Confirmation Certain. Hearing Still Important

By Mitch Jeserich, NEWS JUNKIE Guest Columnist

Let’s just get this out of the way. With a 60-40 majority for the Democrats in the Senate, Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation is certain pending some outrageous misfortune or scandalous information that not even the FBI has uncovered. Furthermore, Sotomayor should do fine on the hot seat considering she’s been sitting in a pretty hot seat as a federal judge for 17 years.

The only thing that can throw her off is if the pain-killers she has been taking due to her broken leg work a little too well. Still, she has been assiduously preparing for the last month even with her leg elevated. Besides, she’s had an extremely seasoned best team preparing her; Vice President Joe Biden for one. He was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee for several years, including during the contentious hearings of Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork. Also on Sotomayor’s prep team are Cynthia Hogan, legal advisor to Biden during the Thomas and Bork hearings, and Ronald Klain who worked on the Clinton White House confirmations of Justices Ginsberg and Breyer.

Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee is still important. It’s the public’s only real opportunity to vet her personality, temperament and judicial philosophy for one of the most powerful positions. The Supreme Court is an equal branch of the government with the power to strike down laws and rebuke the President. Justices are the only top government officials not elected and they serve life time appointments.

A Justice can be impeached, and it has happened just once in 1804 against Samuel Chase. There is ample evidence to suggest Chase was a corrupt judge lacking in moral fortitude. However, the thrust of the
impeachment movement, lead by Thomas Jefferson, was their opposition to Chase’s federalist views and work with the John Marshall Court in strengthening both the Supreme Court and the federal government. The
Senate did not convict Chase and he returned to the bench.

Regardless of Sotomayor’s confirmation, there is a lot of riding on a Court that is increasingly turning to the right and will likely stay there for the next two decades, even as Congress and the White House have veered to the left. With the addition of the two newest members, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, and former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement, Justice Kennedy has become the new swing vote and he swings far more often to the right than O’Connor did.

Numbers provided by scotusblog.com demonstrates a strong right wing majority block on the Court.(Remember, we haven’t even mentioned Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia). Since O’Connor left the court
Kennedy has voted with Roberts 86 percent of the time, and Kennedy has become the most powerful Justice as he has sided with the majority 92 percent of the time. Roberts, meanwhile, has voted with Alito, potentially the most conservative justice on the bench, 92% of the time—the most of any 2 judges on the Court. And since Roberts and Alito arrived, there have been several 5-4 decisions limiting the scope of civil rights protections and measures meant to address racial inequalities.

As much as Sotomayor herself, this week’s hearing will be as much about Senators debating judicial philosophy (i.e., original intent of the Constitution which normally is supported by conservatives versus the liberal interpretation of the Constitution being a living and breathing document meant to be seen in light of today’s realities). The hearing will also put race at the top of the public discourse again: particularly race and Republicans.

In fact, Republicans even have more on the line with this confirmation hearing than does Sotomayor. In the last election Republicans lost ground with minority voters, including Latinos, which is one group that the GOP had built inroads to. Aggressive questioning from Republicans about Sotomayor’s statements acknowledging her ethnic identity as a part of her professional development will likely turn off moderate to conservative Latinos the same way the Republican’s scapegoating immigrants has.

This is occurring while the GOP is in the middle of an identity crisis represented beautifully by the Michael Steele/Rush Limbaugh circus. Even worse for the Republican party is that the head Republican on the
Senate Judiciary Committee tasked with leading the GOP circumspection of Sotomayor is Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

Oh no! Jeff Sessions! I know some Republican leaders looking to turn their party around are taking out their frustration with a crowbar on their John Deer lawnmowers over this one. No stranger to the confirmation process, Sessions had his own nomination to the federal bench blocked by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 after a black lawyer testified at his hearing that Sessions warned him to be careful how he talked to white people.

Sessions also tried to prosecute a number of voting rights activists in Alabama, including an aide to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Not stopping there, Sessions called the NAACP an un-American organization and a white civil rights lawyer a disgrace to his race. Now, Sessions will be leading the questioning of Sotomayor and her remarks about her Latina heritage!!?? (Hard to find the right punctuation for that one) Wow. Only in America.

Mitch Jeserich we’ll be hosting Pacifica Radio’s live coverage of the hearing starting on Monday at 9 am. You can stream it at kpfa.org.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings To Begin

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