Sotomayor Keeps Her Cool on the Senate Hot Seat

Sotomayor Keeps Her Cool on the Senate Hot Seat

Whatever Sonia Sotomayor does to reward herself — a glass of wine, an ice cream sundae, a bubble bath — surely she must be giving herself a small pat on the back after surviving her first day of cross-examination by the Senate Judiciary Committee without any kind of gaffe. Despite the best efforts of some Republicans to elicit a hot-tempered response, the Supreme Court nominee answered every question in the same deliberate, dulcet tones that seemed to lull her opposition into, if not complacency, then at least resignation. In between grilling her on abortion and reports of her tempestuous temperament, Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, even declared: “I like you, by the way, for whatever that matters. Since I may vote for you that ought to matter to you.”

Sotomayor made it through the eight hours of interrogation — with a civilized 90-minute lunch break — calmly fielding questions, taking notes and, when things looked like they might get tense, gently patting the table like she might a nervous dog. Though the questioning grew pointed a couple of times, it never became argumentative or acrimonious. Republicans must have blinked when Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat known for his bare-knuckle partisan tactics, expressed his gratitude. “I would like to first thank my Republican colleagues. I think the questioning has been strong, but respectful,” Schumer said, with just a hint of a smile, before taking his turn to lob softballs at Sotomayor.

Not that the GOP didn’t go out of its way to give its base something to chew on. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the committee, wasted little time questioning Sotomayor’s objectivity by citing her now infamous comments that she hoped a “wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion” than a white male. “First,” Sessions demanded, “I’d like to know, do you think there’s any circumstance in which a judge should allow their prejudices to impact their decision-making”

“Never their prejudices,” Sotomayor answered, while acknowledging that she had made a bad choice of words in her previous speeches. “Life experiences have to influence you. We’re not robots to listen to evidence and don’t have feelings. We have to recognize those feelings and put them aside.”

Sessions remained unconvinced. “I just am very concerned that what you’re saying today is quite inconsistent with your statement that you willingly accept that your sympathies, opinions and prejudices may influence your decision-making,” he concluded.

Sotomayor also spent much of the day defending her handling of the Ricci v. Destefano reverse-discrimination case, which the Supreme Court last month overturned, stating that she had simply followed existing precedent in joining the panel ruling that New Haven was right to deny white firemen promotions when enough minorities had not passed an employment test. She also sought to assure senators she’d remain open-minded on gun laws and pledged that she quite clearly understood that foreign laws are not applicable in the United States, even if she has an interest in studying them. Following a strategy first developed by now Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts when, as an aide in the Justice Department, he helped prep Sandra Day O’Connor for her confirmation hearing in 1981, Sotomayor’s answers followed a now standard, safe script. Praise Brown v. Board of Ed Check. Cite Roe v. Wade as “settled law” Check. Condemn Kormatsu v. the United States Check.

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