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Sotomayor: What was revealed

Did the Senate confirmation hearings reveal more about the Republicans than they did about the Supreme Court nominee?

Maybe wise Latinas really are smarter than white males, said John Nichols in The Nation. That’s certainly how it looked last week, as Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee tried to derail the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s first pick for the Supreme Court. One after another, conservative senators with dubious civil-rights records took turns berating Sotomayor for voicing the opinion, years ago, that a “wise Latina” would “more often than not” reach better judicial conclusions than a white male. But a serene, thoughtful Sotomayor refused to take the bait, and as the week wore on, the GOP had no choice but to “throw in the towel.”

She will be confirmed, said Jim Geraghty in National Review Online, but at a heavy cost to liberal Democrats. Republicans went easy on Sotomayor because she spent the week agreeing with them, disowning and rejecting every tenet of liberal judicial activism. Her own philosophy, she told the panel, was “simple: fidelity to the law,” explicitly disavowing the idea that her ethnicity and gender would shape her interpretation of the law. No one “thinks she actually believed what she was saying,” said Terry Eastland in The Weekly Standard, but who cares? As a replacement for the liberal Justice David Souter, Sotomayor won’t alter the political balance of the court, and in her hearings she set a new, conservative standard that Obama’s future nominees will have to meet, or risk being rejected as “more extreme than Sotomayor.”

Republicans can congratulate themselves all they like, said Frank Rich in The New York Times, but in these hearings, they nailed shut their own coffins. Clearly chagrined that a Latina would soon be sitting on the Supreme Court, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and his colleagues framed virtually every question in terms of “race, ethnicity, and gender.” They lectured Sotomayor on the “proper role” of judges, suggested she was a bitch for the way she questioned male lawyers, and badgered her to promise she wouldn’t take away the white man’s rights. It would have been funny had it not been so absurd, said Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post. “Are we to infer that men of European descent are never unduly influenced by their own ethnicity, gender, or political preferences?” In the end, Sotomayor may have revealed little—but Republicans, unfortunately, revealed themselves as a party of grouchy holdouts from an era in which women and minorities knew their place.

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