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SCOTUS: Sotomayor Hearings, Day One, Part I

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The confirmation hearings on Judge Sonia Sotomayor begin at 10 am ET today in Senate Judiciary. I’ll be liveblogging as I can throughout the week.

AFJ’s Nan Aron has a preview of what we can expect from today’s Sotomayor confirmation hearing. In sum, the GOP will use the hearings as a venue to talk guns, abortion and to replay the politically and racially divisive strategery of the Jessie Helms "hands" ad (YouTube).

Classy.

In any event, hold onto your hats, kids — it could be a bumpy ride or a yawnfest. We’re about to see.

9:56 am ET:  Judge Sotomayor has just entered the hearing room with Sens. Leahy and Sessions.  The click of photog cameras sounds like rabid cicadas.  She’s now doing the traditional photo-op around of the Senators with handshakes and smiles aplenty.

Will be a little while before anything official gets going.

9:58 am ET:  Already wrong.  Leahy gavelling things in order to get everyone in place early today.  Doing a bit of an opening.

Welcoming Sotomayor to the Judiciary Committee.  Emphasizing the George H.W. Bush nomination to the District Court and then the Clinton nomination to the 2nd Cir.

Asking Sotomayor to introduce her family.  Sotomayor laughing, saying that if she introduced all family, they’d be there several days.  Introducing immediate family, godchildren and good friends in the room — Leahy leaving the record open for her to detail names after the hearing if she likes.

Each Senator is giving a 10 minute opening statement today.  Hopes all Sens will be here today.  If not, then they will have to take it out of their time for questions tomorrow.

LEAHY OPENING:  We are considering Sotomayor’s nomination to SCOTUS.  We have almost 20 million Americans, and only a very few get to sit on SCOTUS.   Senate has to do its part on behalf of hte American people.  "The arcof the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Dr. Martin Luther King.  Each generation seeks it’s path towards justice.

Leahy going through amendments toward civil rights, extension of voting rights, etc., toward a more perfect union — and sees this nomination as another step long that path.

Going through history of Sotomayor’s:  raised by single mother, educational work — graduated summa cum laude and phi beta kappa from Princeton.  Then Yale Law.  Chose to serve her community in the NY District Attorney’s office — every one of us who have had the privilege of being a prosecutor knows how hard a job that is.  Served as a trial judge for 6 years on federal district court.  Then 2nd Circuit — approved both times by bi-partisan majorities.  First nominee to be nominated to three different federal judiciary positions by three different presidents.

Was a prosecutor and a lawyer in private practice and brings a wealth of experience to the court.  Hers is a success story in which all Americans can take pride.  Goes through history of people who break barriers having to deal with qualifications questions — Thurgood Marshall’s "are you prejudiced against the white people of the South?" question during his confirmation process.  Questions about Louis Brandeis being prejudiced against non-jews and charges that he was a "radical."  Likewise, first Catholic nominee had to deal with questions about being controlled by the Pope.

Leahy hopes that we are in a different era and that Senators will not demean the process.  This hearing is an opportunity for Americans to see and hear Sotomayor for themselves — says it is the most transparent confirmation process held.  Decisions, papers and other materials are posted online publicly and testimony will be carried live as well.

Review of judicial record shows careful, restrained judge who has respect for precedent and of other branches of government and their role in lawmaking.  Has a deep understanding of the real lives — the REAL livs — of Americans in this country.  Some have sought to twist her words into partisan attacks, some of whom began attacking her before she was even selected. 

We have seen what kind of judge she has been — don’t have to speculate what kind she will be. 

Senators have a high responsibility to base any criticisms on the facts and on reality, not on distorted and politicized views of her record.  This is a nation based on the rule of law.  As a federal judge, Sotomayor has kept faith with that — there is not one law for the rich and another for the poor, one for one color and another for someone else — there is one law for all.  That’s the fair and impartial judging the American people expect and deserve.

Justice Souter served the nation with distinction with a commitment to judtice and an understanding of the Court’s impact on the daily lives of American citizens.  Believes Sotomayor will sere in that mold, and in that of O’Connor — with a commitment to the law, not to a particular outcome.

SESSIONS OPENING:  Starts by being awfully happy with Leahy, and gosh isn’t Sotomayor’s prosecuting history great because, gosh darn it, I was one, too.  SCOTUS justices hold enormous power, have a huge responsibility and this history is important because this is a dangerous crossroads for the court:  the traditional view of the law where courts don’t make law or set policy (CHS notes:  except when they do so in the conservative way, eh, Jeff?) and the non-traditional way where they think like liberals — words have no true meaning and judges push their own political and social agenda.  (CHS notes:  paraphrasing here, natch).

Sessions pushing the prayer in schools, personal p[roperty seizure, scary terrorists, the UN and corruption of the American way by "empathy."  Pardon me while I hide under my laptop from scary, "liberal activist, results-oriented, relativistic world, where laws lose their fixed meaning, and unelected judges set policy, Americans are seen as members of separate groups rather than as simply Americans, where constitutional limits on government power are ignored when politicians want to buy out private companies."  (CHS notes:  that’s an exact quote.  No snark.)

Long ranty goodness about personal sympathies disqualifying people from being judges.  (CHS notes:  again, no problems with Alito and Roberts personal sympathies or conservative activism, just liberals.) 

Going over every GOP talking point at length now from cherry-picked moments in speeches over her many years on the bench.   (CHS notes:  If this is going ot be the GOP tack today, I’m going to need more coffee.)  Blah-bity-blah about Ricci changing rules in the middle of the game and calling it "her opinion" — and then goes to the PRLDEF.  Nice smear tactic without factual substance, there, Jeff.  That would be a logical flaw in the empathy standard if it weren’t for the fact that it was the SCOTUS, led by Justice Kennedy was the court which actually changed the standard on Ricci based on every bit of analysis that’s been done.

Shorter Sessions:  No scary GOP talking point left behind. 

KOHL OPENING:  Congratulates Sotomayor on her nomination — represents American success story.  Goes through what SCOTUS does, and how important it is to know "what is in your heart and in your mind" and what you think about "fundamental issues like property rights, civi liberties, separation of church and state and other important questions."

Hits concerns on cloaked answers and the need for a frank discussion on these issues.

Now discussing his theory of "judicial excellence" — he wants a smarty pants and a sense of the American values that we all recognize.  Accept basic constitutional values and the law.  Looks for a sense of compassion, to remind us that the law is more than an intellectual game and a mental exercise.  Quotes Justice Black.  Justice must recognize that real people with real problems are affected by court decisions — justice may be blind, but it should not be deaf.  Quotes Justice Thomas:  "judge should walk int he shoes of the people involved."

Hits critics who gripe about her background — it’s impossible for anyone to divorce themselves from their own backgrounds.

HATCH OPENING:  He’s in full-on concern troll mode this morning.  "Seriousness of our responsibilty and its impact on America."  Tone is "it pains me to say this, but I’m now going to say something insulting anyway." 

Starts by playing the liberty card, and the constitution.  Puts his article from Harvard law and public policy journal into the record.   Goes over his own article now.  Goes on ad nauseum about Obama’s opposition of Janice Rogers Brown — and whines about Sotomayor’s extensive judicial decisions.  Gripes about Obama’s looking at Brown’s prior speeches, say it was poopy (CHS:  paraphrasing there) and then says he’s going ot apply that same standard he thought was wrong back then.  And now whining about Miguel Estrada not being confirmed.

Shorter Hatch:  "I know you are, but what am I?"   Some of the things said about Sotomayor have been intemperate and unfair.  Attacks PFAW.  Now I’m going to say some intemperate things about them "if it’s true, then it’s beneath contempt."  (CHS notes:  Um…shouldn’t Hatch actually check on accuracy before he says it on the record in a hearing — or is that just me?)

FEINSTEIN OPENING:  Congratulations.  You are just awesome, and allow me to sound like a Hallmark card for a moment.  You bring with you 29 and a half years of legal experience and that’s just awesome.

It is very unique for a judge to have both levels of federal court experience — and you’ll be the only one on SCOTUS with that experience if selected.  You’ve prosecuted and administered justice in the trial form.  You’ve also done business litigation, and tried complex civil cases in banking, real estate, and contracts law as well as intellectual property — huge breadth of knowledge in a practical setting. 

(CHS notes:  Feinstein gets interrupted by some screaming guy whose words were not really intelligible for me.  Anyone catch that?  Shouter is removed — and Leahy makes clear the hearing process will be orderly, with no outbursts either for or against the nominee or memebrs of the committee.)

Bottom line for Feinstein:  Sotomayor is very well qualified.  Goes on to discuss nominees not really answering questions on specifics during the hearings, specifically regarding the Casey decision and the precedent therefrom.  Gets into stare decisis.   Gets in a dig about "activism" as defined only gets applied to one philosophy, even though it’s practiced by both — and walks through conservative judicial activism recently by the Court.

Believes that Sotomayor will strenghten SCOTUS.

GRASSLEY OPENING:  Congratulations on your nomination, and a warm welcome to your family and friends.  Your record is very distinguished, you made your start from very humble beginnings and went on to excel at some of the nation’s top schools and your legal record is impressive.

However, to be truly qualified, we’d like you to interpret the law and the constitution without bias.  Set aside your own feelings to administer equal justice for all.   Anchor your decisions in the constitution and not pursue personal and political agendas from the bench.  Can you resist the temptations to mold the constitution to your own personal beliefs or prejudices? 

Political battles are appropriately fought in the legislative branch, not the judiciary. 

Good judges must meticulously apply the law and the constitution, even if their opinions are unpopular.  Must be constrained by the constitution — you should live and breathe this.  Obama said empathy and that troubles Grassley — much blah-bity-blah about feelings and Grassley doesn’t like that. 

I’m going to ask you about wearing the judicial blindfold.  (CHS notes:  Or maybe you could look at her opinions and actually see what she’s done for years to get a feel for that.  But that would have been a lot of work for you and your staff, eh?)  We have a tremendous responsibility to confirm a good judge — solid legal expertise, great intellect and solid judicial temperament — and truly understands your proper role as a judge.

Starting a new thread momentarily…

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com

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