Judicial Philosophy and Race Frames Sotomayor Confirmation

By Leigh Ann Caldwell, NEWS JUNKIE POST Contributor

Reporting from the Capitol

Lawmakers and analysts have scoured through the 450 cases heard by Judge Sonia Sotomayor. But at the heart of Republican concerns are statements she made off the bench. They have come to be known as the “wise Latina” comments. Ranking Republican of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jeff Sessions (R-AL), expressed concern.

Sessions has seen his own controversy before the Judiciary Committee. In 1986, the committee failed to confirm him to a federal judgeship for racist comments, including calling the NAACP “un-American.”

“She did not misspeak,” Sessions said.

Judge Sotomayor made that comment when speaking to law students at UC Berkley. The premise of her speech was that life experience impacts judicial understanding.

Leading up to the hearing, conservatives, including radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, and former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, have called her a racist.

Through their opening statements, Republican Senators refused to make that assertion. They praised Judge Sotomayor’s accomplishments and strayed from personal attacks. Instead they focused on her judicial philosophy, which they called flawed.

Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) says judges should be “impartial“ and “blinded” to subjectivity.

“Judge Sotomayor clearly rejected the notion that judges should strive for an impartial brand of justice. She’s already accepted the fact that her gender and heritage will affect the outcome of her cases,” Kyl said. “This is a serious issue.”

Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) rebuked his fellow Republicans. He said personal opinions should not be a factor for disqualification. “I don’t want milk toast judges,” he said.

Graham also said Republicans lost the election and that they will likely disagree with any nominee President Obama chooses. Disagreement is not a reason to oppose, he said.

Democrats defended Judge Sotomayor and the value of her background.

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) said personal experience only enhances qualifications for the court.

“I do not believe judges are only umpires calling balls and strikes. They also bring to the court their own experiences,” Feinstein said.

Judge Sotomayor gave a brief opening statement during which she defended her judicial philosophy.

“The process of judging is enhanced when the arguments and concerns of the parties to the litigation are understood and acknowledged….My personal and professional experiences help me listen and understand, with the law always commanding the result in every case.”

The hearing was briefly interrupted three times by anti-abortion protesters outside the hearing room.

The proceedings will resume Tuesday where Senators will begin questioning Judge Sotomayor.

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