Sotomayor a step closer

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor; the Senate is expected to confirm the nomination next week.

The Senate Judiciary Committee this week approved the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, setting the stage for the 55-year-old appellate judge to become the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the nation’s high court. The 13–6 committee vote broke nearly entirely along party lines, with all 12 Democrats and only one Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, supporting the nomination. The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to easily confirm her next week.

Democrats cited what they called Sotomayor’s moderate record over 17 years on the federal bench in New York, and lauded her up-from-the-projects biography. But the judiciary panel’s ranking Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, said Sotomayor lacked “the deep-rooted convictions necessary to resist the siren call of judicial activism.” Some Hispanic groups suggested Republicans would pay a political price for their opposition. “The lack of GOP support is profoundly unfortunate,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

Sotomayor certainly delivered an “amazing performance” before the committee, said Jay Nordlinger in National Review Online. But a performance it was. “The Sonia Sotomayor of the past was completely gone.” The consummate liberal who once insisted that objectivity in the law was a “fantasy” was replaced by “a champion of impartiality, disinterestedness, and the rule of law.” What a charade.

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Blame the confirmation process, said John Nichols in The Nation. Judicial nominees now routinely dodge even the most rudimentary questions about their jurisprudence, to avoid giving ammunition to partisan opponents. As a result, as Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold said in frustration, the entire process “fails to educate the Senate or the public about the views of potential justices.” How strange that the only people who can’t express an opinion on abortion and the other hot-button issues that land before the Supreme Court are the ones who will actually decide those issues.

Obama could pay heavy a price for Sotomayor’s artful dodging, said Dahlia Lithwick in Newsweek. By indulging the “fantasy” that a good judge is a “robot umpire,” Obama may have severely curtailed his options the next time a vacancy presents itself. Forced onto the defensive, Sotomayor denounced judicial “empathy” and avoided any blatant advocacy for the downtrodden. There are many excellent Supreme Court contenders who “may not be able to meet this new Sotomayor standard.”

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