By Alexander Bolton - 07/13/09 11:35 AM EDT
During his opening statement in Monday’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) told nominee Sonia Sotomayor that she is virtually assured of Senate approval.
“Unless you have a complete meltdown, you’re going to be confirmed,” said Graham, capturing the sentiment of many Republicans at the outset of Sotomayor’s hearing.
Despite the likely outcome of the confirmation hearings, during opening statements Monday morning, senior Republicans on the Judiciary panel pressed Sotomayor on her willingness to remain impartial as a prospective Supreme Court justice.
Opening the first day of hearings, Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the ranking Republican on Judiciary, warned that he would not vote for the nominee if she failed to dispel concerns over her judicial philosophy.
Sessions also vowed to oppose a nominee who “believes it is acceptable for a judge to allow their own personal background, gender, prejudices or sympathies to sway their decision in favor of, or against, parties before the court.”
Sessions pointed to a speech Sotomayor gave in 1994 in which she said: “I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage but attempt … continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate.”
Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Jon Kyl (Ariz.), two other senior Republican on the panel, likewise impugned Sotomayor’s impartiality.
“I’ve reviewed your record and have concerns about your judicial philosophy,” said Grassley. “For example, in one speech, you doubted that a judge could ever be truly impartial. In another speech, you argued that it’d be a ‘disservice both to the law and society’ for judges to disregard personal views shaped by one’s ‘differences as women or men of color.’ ”
Kyl said: “If judges routinely started ruling on the basis of their personal feelings, however well-intentioned, the entire legitimacy of the judicial system would be jeopardized.
“We cannot simply brush aside her extrajudicial statements,” Kyl added.
The pointed questions about Sotomayor’s sense of fairness and credibility set up later scrutiny of the nominee’s decision in Ricci v. DeStefano, in which she rejected a lawsuit by white firefighters alleging discrimination. The Supreme Court reversed Sotomayor’s finding last month.
Democrats accused Republicans of taking Sotomayor’s comments and distorting them.
“One attack that I find particularly shocking is the suggestion that she will be biased against some litigants because of her racial and ethnic heritage,” said Sen. Russ Feingold (Wis.), a Democrat on the panel. “This charge is not based on anything in her judicial record, because there is absolutely nothing in the hundreds of opinions she has written to support it.”
Photo by Greg Nash