A look at some exchanges in Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor:
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.: “You said that, quote, you would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would reach wise decisions. ... So tell us, you’ve heard all of these charges and countercharges, the wise Latina and on and on. Here’s your chance. You tell us — you tell us what’s going on here, Judge.”
Sotomayor: “I gave a variant of my speech to a variety of different groups, most often to groups of women lawyers or to groups, most particularly, of young Latino lawyers and students. As my speech made clear in one of the quotes that you reference, I was trying to inspire them to believe that their life experiences would enrich the legal system, because different life experiences and backgrounds always do. I don’t think that there is a quarrel with that in our society. I was also trying to inspire them to believe that they could become anything they wanted to become, just as I had.”
Never miss a local story.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.: “I think it’s consistent in the comments I’ve quoted to you and your previous statements that you do believe that your backgrounds will accept — affect the result in cases, and that’s troubling me. So that is not impartiality. Don’t you think that is not consistent with your statement, that you believe your role as a judge is to serve the larger interest of impartial justice?”
Sotomayor: “No, sir. As I’ve indicated, my record shows that at no point or time have I ever permitted my personal views or sympathies to influence an outcome of a case. In every case where I have identified a sympathy, I have articulated it and explained to the litigant why the law requires a different result. ... I do not permit my sympathies, personal views, or prejudices to influence the outcome of my cases.”
Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis.: “As you know, judge, the landmark case of Griswold v. Connecticut guarantees that there is a fundamental constitutional right to privacy as it applies to contraception. Do you agree with that? In your opinion, is that settled law?”
Sotomayor: “That is the precedent of the court, so it is settled law.”
Kohl: “In your opinion, is Roe settled law?”
Sotomayor: “The court’s decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey reaffirmed the court holding of Roe. That is the precedent of the court and settled, in terms of the holding of the court.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah: “If a holding in the Supreme Court means it is settled, do you believe that — that Gonzales v. Carhart, upholding the partial-birth abortion ban, is settled law?”
Sotomayor: “All precedents of the Supreme Court I consider settled law,” subject to the possibility of subsequent reversal.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.: “Does the Constitution authorize the president to not follow parts of laws duly passed by the Congress that he is willing to sign that he believes are an unconstitutional infringement on executive authority?”
Sotomayor: “First, you look at whether Congress has expressly or implicitly addressed or authorized the president’s act in a certain way. And if the president has, then he’s acting at his highest stature of power. If the president is acting in prohibition of an express or implied act of Congress, then he’s working at his lowest ebbs. If he’s acting where Congress hasn’t spoken, then we’re in what Justice Jackson called the zone of twilight.”
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa: “Do you believe that the Supreme Court overstepped their constitutional authorities when they went beyond the words of the Constitution, in other words, to the word purpose, and thus expanded the ability of government to take an individual’s private property?”
Sotomayor: “I know that there are many litigants who have expressed that view. And, in fact, there has been many state legislators that have passed state legislation not permitting state governments to take in the situation that the Supreme Court approved of ... . I have to accept ... that as precedent. And so, I can’t comment further than to say that I understand the questions and I understand what state legislatures have done and would have to await another situation, or the court would, to apply the holding in that case.”