“Wise Latina” Defends Herself And Roe
By Leigh Ann Caldwell, NEWS JUNKIE POST Contributor
Reporting from the Capitol
For the first time since President Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to serve on the Supreme Court, she had the opportunity to defend herself from accusations of being a racist and discuss her interpretation of the law around guns, abortion, and executive power.
In the second full day of hearings, Senators spent thirty minutes of questions, attempting to better understand Judge Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy and ideological values.
Wearing a red jacket, speaking slowly and confidently, Sotomayor explained her “wise Latina” comments.
“I do not believe that any ethnic or racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging. I do believe that every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge regardless of their background or life experiences,” Sotomayor said.
Her comments to mostly Latino law students at UC Berkley in 2001 have sparked a firestorm since her nomination. In one phrase of her lengthy speech, she said, “I would hope a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experience, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male.”
During his round of questioning, Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) was unable to find his paper to repeat the quote. He asked Sotomayor if she could repeat it, hesitating, reluctant to do so, he found his paper and read it himself. Graham then spoke about the hypocrisy of who society would allow to say that statement. Graham said that “they would have his head” if he said he would be a better Senator “because of his experiences as a white male.”
Sotomayor said she hoped her life story be taken into consideration instead of a statement “taken in isolation.”
As Sotomayor attempted to assure the Judiciary Committee that her experiences do not impact her decision, top Republican on the Committee, Jeff Sessions (R-AL), remained skeptical.
“I am just very concerned that what you are saying today is quite inconsistent with your statement that you willingly accept that your sympathies, opinions, and prejudices influence your decision making,” Sessions said.
“I think the system is strengthened when judges don’t assume they are impartial, but when judges test themselves to identify when their emotions are driving a result of their experience are driving the result and the law is not,” Sotomayor responded.
Continuing to quiz her about racial preference, Republicans asked Sotomayor about her decision in Ricci v. DeStafano in which white firefighters sued the city of New Haven for racial discrimination, a decision which was later overturned by the Supreme Court. Sotomayor said she was bound by precedent.
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah said precedent could have been reset in such a landmark case of workplace discrimination. “Why did your panel not do your own analysis and your own opinion? Why did you not analyze the issues yourself and apply what law existed to the difficult and perhaps unprecedented issues of the case,” Hatch asked.
Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) asked Sotomayor about racial disparities in the criminal justice system, including the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine. Sighting her role as a judge and her reluctance to espouse personal beliefs, Sotomayor neglected to expound. She was compelled to add that she “can appreciate why not saying more would feel unsatisfying but I am limited by the role I have.
Much of lawmakers’ probing attempted to gain insight on key issues of guns, abortion, and executive power.
In response to questions by Democrat Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Sotomayor defended Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion. She said the case Planned Parenthood v. Casey “reaffirmed the core holding of Roe. That is the precedent of the court,” Sotomayor said.
Tuesday, another anti-abortion protestor interrupted the hearing. One of the three people hauled out of the hearing room Monday was Norma McCorvey, also known as Jane Roe in Roe v. Wade. She since has become an anti-abortion activist.
Democrats discussed the expansion of executive power and the role of the court. Sotomayor was hesitant to expand, saying it depends on the facts of the case, the constitution and what Congress has legislated.
Democratic Senator Russ Feingold quizzed Sotomayor about war-time Supreme Court decision, including Korematzu v. The United States, the internment of Japanese during World War II. Sotomayor said, “a judge should never rule from fear” and she called the decision “inconceivable.”
As for gun rights, Sotomayor said she believed the second amendment is an individual right to bear arms, which pleased pro-gun advocates. She neglected to expand the issue since there are three cases that could be heard by the Supreme Court in the next year.
Questioning of Judge Sotomayor will continue Wednesday.