Sotomayor Comfirmation Hearing is Pretty Boring

>> Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Im trying hard to get worked up about the sotomayor confirmation hearing. I really am. Sadly though i just cant. Dont get me wrong im very excited to see a latina woman appointed to the court and even though id like to see more liberalism from her she isnt the worst choice ever. My problem is with this entire confirmation hearing process. Does it really serve any point? Are we learning a tremendous deal about Ms. Sotomayor? Are we learning a great deal about the Senators from the questions they ask? I have to say we arent. I mean, we all knew Sessions was a racist before the hearing and that Lyndsey Grahm didnt like Roe. The entire process is congressional theater write large. Right now everyone is playing their part and reciting their lines.

In today's media environment the second that Ms. Sotomayor became the frontrunner for the nomination she and her record were placed under a brutal media spotlight. Her 17 year history on the bench provides ample evidence for the type of justice she would make. If you really want to know how she thinks, her philosophy, whether she ignores law and precedent all you really had to do was to read her opinions.

The thing is, many people have. Ms. Sotomayor is not a mystery. She hasnt been plucked from obscurity with nothing written to examine. This makes me less interested in the hearing. We know by now who she is. She is an overall center left judge. She hasnt been willing to make bold leaps in the law or to use the law as a tool of social reform.

Another thing that makes this confirmation hearing boring to me is the fact that it takes place under a cloak of disingenuousness that affects every aspect of SCOTUS discussion. One aspect of the problem is that people act like understanding the law and making appellate rulings is easy and straightforward. its clearly not. Its hard and hyper-technical in most instances. The attempt to simplify the job and process of a Supreme distorts the discussion but most people cant follow hyper technical discussions of the law and that wouldnt look good for the politicians on tv to be over the head of their constituents.

The AP put out one of the strangest anti-Sotomayor pieces today that makes my point. It comes with the headline Columnist: Sotomayor is no Sandra Day O'Connor. In it the conservative espousing his views stated,

Q: How do you think the regular people, especially Republicans in red states are viewing the hearing?

A: I think most people get very confused in these proceedings because it gets so technical. I think they size up the person.

I'm sure most Republicans who look at her, would think she's not the best nominee. But what do they expect? Obama won. I would have liked him to pick another O'Connor. I don't see her at all being a Sandra Day O'Connor and going back and forth and helping the court find the center. Kennedy is the only justice who does that, and that's a shame. I'd like to see more justices who could help us find the center in a center-left era. I don't see Sotomayor being that person, but I may be wrong.

The era may be center left but the current Court sits far to the right. A judge who sides sometimes with Alito, Scalia, Roberts, and Thomas jusnt isnt likely to side often with the more liberal wing of the court. Its like asking obama to nominate a conservative to the Court.

The entire attitude of the hearings is wrong. its filled with "how would you rule in this case" type of questions. It really needs to focus on judicial philosophy. Thats a discussion that the American public could probably track and might find interesting. The problem is that Sotomayor simply avoids all of these real questions so that she isnt hurt politically. One excellent example cited by Jan Crawford Greenburg

GRAHAM: Do you believe the Constitution is a living, breathing, evolving document?

SOTOMAYOR: The Constitution is a document that is immutable to the sense that it's lasted 200 years. The Constitution has not changed except by amendments. It is a process -- an amendment process that is set forth in the document. It doesn't live other than to be timeless by the expression of what it said. What changes is society. What changes is what facts a judge may get.

That’s nonsensical. Obviously, the name of the game is confirmation, but if you have 60 votes, why not explain your views on the role of the courts and liberal judicial philosophy? Justice Breyer wrote an entire book on this! He and Scalia have gone on the road to debate whether the Constitution is living or dead (I moderated one of their debates and just tried to stay out of the way). This is an easy one! It shouldn’t be that difficult to knock it out of the park.

Obviously, Sotomayor can't answer questions about how she would rule on issues that might come before her, so it's a different point than sounding like Roberts on those answers. But it's her responses on theory, the sweeping questions of philosophy that are frustrating liberals like Seidman.

“One of the things she said that was striking yesterday was 'judges should never decide cases out of fear.’ But her testimony came out of fear,” Seidman told me this morning. “It doesn’t speak well of her.”

And with a decisive majority in the Senate, “it doesn’t take a lot of courage,” Seidman said. “It takes only a little.”

Exactly. Lack of courage on her part and a lack of spontanaiety on the Senators part and total predictability by the village adds up to make these hearings boring and rather useless.


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