Monday, July 13, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor hearings

I've spent most of my morning watching the opening statements of the Sotomoyor nomination on C-Span. Here are a few thoughts:

  • Lindsey Graham, the Republican Senator from South Carolina was endearing. He seemed to go out of his way to point out that Republican votes against Judge Sotomayor's confirmation should not be construed as a vote against a Latina but as a vote against a nominee whose ability to be impartial remains in doubt. His comment that she will be confirmed unless she has a total meltdown will surely get a lot of press attention, but I think his open struggle over how he should vote on the first Latina nominee to the Court was pretty interesting to watch. His statement that elections have consequences is obviously important. He is undoubtedly struggling between two poles: ideology/partisanship v. pragmatism. His ideology dictates that he votes against her because, as he kept saying many times, he knows that she would rule differently than he would want her to in the important cases that count. Moreover, the base demands ideological purity. His pragmatism would have him vote in her favor because: (a) by his own admission, she is well-qualified; (b) a partisan vote against her would further erode support among Latinos for the Republican Party; (c) she is going to be confirmed anyway; (d) he believes that partisanship and ideology should not be the decisive criterion in confirmation battles, he is still mad at Obama for voting against Roberts and Alito on ideological/partisan grounds, and he wants to show everyone that unlike the President, the Republicans can rise above ideology.
  • The contrast between Lindsey Graham and Jeff Sessions, Republican from Alabama, is instructive for the future of the Republican party. Whereas Graham seemed to be leaning on the side of pragmatism (why vote against a nominee who is going to be confirmed anyway and tick-off a growing and critical constituency when you can score bi-partisanship points that you can use later), Sessions seemed much more driven by ideology. Whereas Graham seemed restraint and contemplative, Sessions seemed sure and driven. I think pragmatism, restraint, and thoughtful contemplation is better for the Republicans in the long-run than a hardcore pursuit of ideology and partisanship uber alles. But who knows.
  • Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is impressive and a star.
  • The opening statements from the Republicans were as much about President Obama as they were about Judge Sotomayor.
  • Judge Sotomayor's opening statement was impressive. It was impossible to miss the theme of her statement that linked her nomination to the Supreme Court to that of Mr. Obama's nomination to the presidency: her improbable rise from "modest circumstances in a Bronx housing project" to the Supreme Court is "uniquely American." While this was a scripted and short statement, the judge was poised and charming. I'm not sure what political points the Republicans hope to score by opposing this nomination. I see no upsides and big downsides.

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