Graham’s folly

A new Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) showed up Tuesday at the confirmation hearing for Judge Sonia Sotomayor. It wasn’t bipartisan Graham, nor was it witty, charming or folksy Graham. After becoming the only Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to declare he may vote to confirm Sotomayor, Graham conducted a memorable lecture and grilling that was nothing short of condescending, patronizing and insulting.

Graham’s cross-examination wasn’t entirely gratuitous; he asked questions about Article 5 of the Geneva Conventions, taxpayer-funded abortion and the obligatory “Is the Constitution a living, breathing, evolving document?” question. But there were shocking, skin-crawling moments, like when he asked her about Sept. 11. As if he were addressing a child, foreigner or someone who was very confused, Graham asked Sotomayor, “Do you know anything about the group that planned this attack, who they are and what they believe? Have you read anything about them?”

Graham also insulted Sotomayor by warning she should never go into speechwriting if “this law thing doesn’t work out,” and conducted an oral examination, requiring her to define legal terms and then to state the obvious about there being no reference to “abortion” in the Constitution.

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Before reading Sotomayor a list of blistering criticisms of her, Graham just wanted her to know “I like you, by the way, for whatever that matters.” Then he went on to the “nasty,” “angry,” “out of control” part. Perhaps he hoped to provoke a flash of hot Latina temper, or just to embarrass her, but Subdued Sonia wouldn’t play. There she sat, in her cautious clothes, with her thick Big Apple accent, calmly filibustering about how she asks “the tough questions.”

With that Graham doubled down. “I never liked appearing before a judge that I thought was a bully. It’s hard enough being a lawyer, having your client there to begin with, without the judge just beating you up for no good reason.” Thanks for sharing, senator. Then he came out with it: “Do you think you have a temperament problem?” No, the judge did not think so. Graham told her then “maybe these hearings are time for self-reflection.” Still no profanity, though warranted, from Steely Sonia.

Next up, Graham held forth on the subjugation of women as well as the rule of law in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan, and concluded that one thing he had “tried to impress upon” Sotomayor was “the consequences of these words in the world in which we live in.” Thanks, professor. Then, though it had come under great scrutiny already, Graham asked Sotomayor about the “wise Latina” quote she has repeated in numerous speeches and has no credible way to recant. When he momentarily misplaced it in his paper pile, he asked her to recite it from memory. Suddenly he located it, ending the horror.

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The performance by the crafty Graham, who served as an impeachment manager during the Senate trial of President Clinton and a judge advocate during active duty in the Gulf War, was clearly purposeful. Though he pronounced at the outset that Sotomayor will be confirmed barring a complete “meltdown,” Graham has been eager to demonstrate that the ideological standard President Obama used to vote against John Roberts and Samuel Alito was wrong and he is one of the Republicans most likely to support Sotomayor. “I don’t want to be the Republican who can never vote for a Democratic nominee because the Democrats won the election,” he told Fox News.

Sotomayor may well earn Graham’s vote. No matter what, Sotomayor has learned what it’s like to get beaten up for no good reason when you have your day in court.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.

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