With the first of Sonia Sotomayor's Senate confirmation hearings happening today at 10 a.m., here is our liveblog as Republicans and Democrats get their first change to question President Obama's nominee publicly, in front of news cameras in the hearing room.
Watch the hearing live on C-SPAN.
Things to watch for: with the hearing attracting so much media attention, which senators will grandstand most extravagantly for or against Sotomayor? Likely candidates on the Republican side are the committee's more conservative members--Sens. John Cornyn,
Lindsey Graham (*Graham, a backer of John McCain, is typically more moderate than his colleagues listed here. See Matthew Cooper's post on Graham at the hearing.), and Tom Coburn. Jon Kyl, who has held a leadership post within the GOP caucus, could also be a good candidate.
And: Frank Ricci, the lead plaintiff in Sotomayor's controversial firefighters/affirmative action ruling will be a witness for Republicans; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will appear, called by the committee's Democrats.
10:00: Sotomayor: "If I introduced everyone who was familylike, we'd be here all morning."
Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) tells her to introduce whomever she wants; the record will be kept open for later additions. Sotomayor then introduces her immediate family, points to "god children and dear friends" in the rest of the row.
10:03: Leahy's opening remarks:
Leahy uses a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote Obama is fond of: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Leahy cites social and civil rights advancements throughout America's history and says Sotomayor's addition could be the next step in that chain of progress. He reviews her personal story--which is compelling--raised by her mother, a nurse, in the South Bronx and attending Princeton in its third class to include women.
10:08: Leahy cites examples of prejudice in previous Supreme Court confirmation hearings; he asks senators on his committee to refrain from any such behavior.
"The confirmation of Louis Brandeis...was a struggle fire with anti-semitism and charges he was a radical," noting that the commentary of the time included "questions about the Jewish mind."
"We are in a different era," Leahy said, calling on his colleagues to reject calls from "partisans and outside pressure groups" to oppose her.
"Let no one demean this extraordinary woman," he said.
Leahy closes by praising Sotomayor's understanding of the law.
10:15: Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) begins by acknowledging the personal significance of today's hearing for Sotomayor. He then warns about the enormous power of Supreme Court justices: "Just five members can declare the meaning of our Constitution."
Sessions warns against a system in which a judge is "free to push his or her political/social agenda."
"We have seen judges force their political and social agenda on this nation."
Sessions lists decisions he deems activist, including habeas corpus rights for terrorism suspects. He blasts President Obama's mention of "empathy" as a standard for a judge, saying no senator should vote for someone for that qualification.
He then takes on specific statements and ruling by Sotomayor, including her "wise Latina" quote and her statement before a Duke University panel that appeals courts are "where policy is made."
10:23: Her decision on white firefighters alleging discrimination in a New Haven affirmative action policy--the lead plaintiff of which will be a witness today for the Republican side of the committee--draws much of his focus.
"It seems to me that in Ricci, Judge Sotomayor's empathy for one group of firefighters turned out to be prejudice against another," Sessions said.
10:31: Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) warns Sotomayor that, while judges often say they won't discuss specific issues, since court cases are individual, those issues are important to discuss.
"I recognize this concern, but I hope you recognize our need to have discussions about these important issues," Kohl said.
Kohl then says it would be impossible for Sotomayor to separate her own experiences from her decision making in court.
10:35: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a longtime member of the committee, does not open with such a screed. It appears Hatch could be among the friendlier Republicans on the committee for Sotomayor.
He says the hearings will be "respectful and substantive."
"The Senate owes some deference to the president's qualified nominees," Hatch says.
10:40: Hatch cites Obama's opposition to judicial nominee Janice Rogers Brown, in which the president cited impartiality as a qualification.
He also points to former nominees that have endured political attacks during their confirmation processes.
"Some of the things that have been said about Judge Sotomayor have been intemperate and unfair," Hatch said, going on to cite "newspaper reports about left wing groups supporting Judge Sotomayor... now engaged in a smear campaign against" Frank Ricci.
If that is true, Hatch says, it is "beneath the dignity" that Sotomayor's confirmation process demands.
Hatch asks whether a judge should be objective and impartial, or subjective and sympathetic. "Judge Sotomayor's nomination raises these and many other issues," Hatch says.
10:44: A member of the audience begins shouting during Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA) opening statement, as she praises Sotomayor. It's unclear what the man was saying; given Feinstein's position atop the Senate Intelligence Committee, it's possible his comments had nothing to do with Sotomayor...
Leahy bangs the gavel and shouts him down: "The police will remove that man."
Leahy says: "I will direct the police to remove anybody who does any kind of outburst either for or against the nominee, for or against any member of this committee."
Sessions breaks in to thank Leahy for his "strong words."
10:50: Feinstein says Sotomayor is experienced and well-studied in the law. She expects Sotomayor will bring her experience and philosophy to bear in the Court, "and that will only do one thing, and that is strengthen this institution."
10:52: Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) says the Senate should determine whether Sotomayor will "dispense justice without bias or prejudice."
Grassley says that's a judge's job in society. "But some people don't see it that way," Grassley said.
"They want justices to enact their political and social agenda," he said.
10:56: The Republican begins to criticize Obama's so-called "empathy standard" and some of Sotomayor's statements.
"This empathy standard is troubling to me," Grassley said. "I'm concerned that judging based on empathy is really just legislating from the bench."
Mentions her "wise Latina" quote--says that and other statements raise concerns about impartiality.
10:59: Sotomayor looks concerned, and perhaps slightly pained, as Grassley criticizes her--the same way she's looked as the committee's other Republicans have voiced their concerns. Her expression doesn't change much; it looks like a half-wince. She appears serious, slightly uncomfortable at times, though not rattled in any way.
11:06: Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) brings up the "wise Latina" remark, which Sotomayor make in a 2001 speech at UC Berkeley.
"I believe that no one who reads the whole Berkeley speech could come to that conclusion [that Sotomayor is a racist]," Feingold said.
11:13: For the committee's Republicans, it's been all about criticizing Obama's "empathy standard," accusing of a subjectivist view on how judging should work. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) continues that trend.
"I respectfully submit that President Obama is simply outside the mainstream in his statements about how judges should decide cases," Kyl says.
"The question for this committee is whether Judge Sotomayor agrees," Kyl said.
Some of Sotomayor's statements outside the courtroom suggest she does agree with Obama that judges should judge based on their "gut" or "heart," Kyl said.
11:19: Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) forcefully makes the case that Sotomayor is an impartial moderate; he contends that, in her prior cases, she has kept her own feelings out of her decisions.
Schumer cites high percentages of rulings for the government in criminal cases and her even split on cases between employers and employees. He notes a ruling against an affirmative action claim.
Then he criticizes Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
"One can question in his time on this Supreme Court, he actually called pitches as they come," Schumer said. "[Sotomayor] has simply called balls and strikes for 17 years, far more closely that Chief Justice Roberts has."
11:34: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a highly visible Republican who stumped for John McCain during the presidential campaign and appears, fairly often, on cable news a Sunday talk shows, so far wins the contest for the opening statement that most stands out.
"Now unless you have a complete meltdown, you're gonna get confirmed, and I don't htink you will, but the drama that's being created here is interesting," Graham said to Sotomayor, drawing some laughter from the audience.
Republicans are prepared to vote for a Hispanic, Graham assures her--if Republicans don't vote for her, it's because "they just feel unnerved by your speeches and some of the things that youv'e said and some of your cases."
"Now, having said that, I don't know what I'm gonna do yet," Graham said.
He takes issue with the wise Latina quote. "I think your experience adds a lot to the court, but I don't think it makes you better than anybody else," he said. And he says he doesn't think she's an activist: "I don't think you've taken the opportunity on the Circuit to be a cause-driven judge."
Graham uses a point made by Sotomayor's supporters as a theme in his remarks: Obama won the election, and by virtue of public mandate, he deserves to put a nominee on the Court.
"We lost, and President Obama won, and that oughtta matter," Graham said.
"I dont' know how I'm gonna vote, but my inclination is that elections matter," Graham reiterated near the end of his remarks. "And I'm not gonna be upset with any of my colleagues who find that you're a bridge too far."
"But President Obama won the election, and I will respect that," Graham said.
But he also questioned the impact Obama's recent victory might have on the Court. Obama's comment that the "critical ingredient" is what's in a judge's heart set out a bad precedent, and was uttered out of political motives, Graham said.
"Translate that as: 'I'm not gonna vote against my base, because I'm running for president,'" Graham said.
11:43: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) cites civil rights progress in the U.S., recalling policies against allowing Jews in some places and activities when he was growing up.
11:47: Leahy adjourns the hearing for a 10-minute break.
11:59: We're back, with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the party's Senate fundraising chairman, giving his statement.
He praises Sotomayor's nomination as historic, as have many of the GOP senators who've spoken today.
12:10: Since judicial appointees matter to the Republican donor base, Cornyn is in a unique position in this hearing. His National Republican Senatorial Committee has already criticized Sotomayor; his position, more so than other Republican senators, would seem to demand that he criticize Sotomayor. However, as the GOP wants to compete for the Hispanic vote, there's also pressure not to criticize her.
In keeping with that, he expressed concerns about the same decisions and statements other GOP senators have referenced.
"Americans need to know whether you would limit the scope, for example, of the Second Amendment...we need to know whether you would limit the scope of the Fifth Amendment, and whether you would expand the notion of public use," Cornyn said.
"Some of your opinions suggest you would limit some of these constitutional rights," Cornyn says. They also suggest she would "invent rights that do not exist in the Constitution," he says.
12:20: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) says accusations of judicial activism are often "code words" used by opponents who want to see decisions they'd agree with.
He also defends Obama's preference for "empathy": "The empathy President Obama saw in you has a proper place in that structure," Whitehouse said.
12:29: Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) offers his own criticism of "empathy": "We certainly don't expect [judges] to sympathize with one party over the other, and that's where empathy comes from."
12:32: Another outburst of shouting from an audience member: As Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) began his remarks, another audience member, in a red shirt and ponytail begins shouting--again, it's not entirely clear what he's saying.
He is hauled out by Capitol Police. Sen. Leahy bangs his gavel, repeats that "no outbursts will be allowed."
"You are guests of the Senate while you are here. Everybody is a guest of the Senate," he tells the audience.
12:38: Leahy adjourns the hearing. When it returns: statements from Democratic Sens. Franken, Speckter, Klobuchar, and Kaufman (Franken coming last), as well as testimony from Sotomayor.
Klobuchar compares Sotomayor to other Supreme Court justices who came from poor and diverse backgrounds.
"Their life experiences shaped their work and what they did on the Supreme Court," Klobuchar says. "This is appropriate and should be unremarkable."
2:08: Klobuchar points out that Sotomayor is only the third female Court nominee. "There are only two women on this committee, Sen. Feinstein and myself," Klobuchar points out, chronicling the discrimination faced by Justices Sandray Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in academic and professional spheres as they rose in their careers.
2:17: Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-DE), Vice President Joe Biden's replacement in the Senate, argues there is an intrinsic value in Sotomayor's gender and ethic background, as it would add diversity to the court.
"I believe a diverse court will function better," he says.
2:21: Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), despite his long tenure as a Judiciary Committee and his status as its former chairman, then ranking member, speaks second to last. After his switch to the Democratic Party, the Democratic caucus decided to make him the most junior Democrat on his committees (despite an indication that he'd retain his seniority), by virtue of his newness to the party.
Specter raises the recent New York Times story about CIA Director Leon Panetta's disclosure to the intelligence committees that the previous administration instructed the CIA not to tell Congress about a secret CIA program, which reportedly was never fully operational.
"Well, the president didn't follow that law [requiring the CIA to brief Congress on its activities]. Did he have the right to do so under Article II powers? Well, we don't know," Specter says.
2:30: Specter closes by saying, despite Justice David Souter's strong preference to the contrary, he's like to see cameras in the Supreme Court.
"The court decides all the cutting edge questions of the day, a lot of people are fascinated by this hearing. I'd like to see the court televised," Specter said.
2:33: The Senate's newest member, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), is last to speak, marking his first major participation in the business of the Senate.
He took the opportunity to introduce himself to the committee. "I am truly humbled to join the Judiciary Committee," he said. He calls Leahy "sir" in thanking him for the welcome.
Franken is interrupted by another shouting audience member as he begins his remarks.
2:40: Franken concludes his remarks. Highlights:
To Sessions: "I look forward to working over the years with you and my other Republican colleagues in the Senate on improving the lives of all Americans," citing previous Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone as an example of the bipartisanship he'll strive for.
"To all the members of this committee, I have a lot to learn from each of you."
Makes numerous references to Sen. Ted Kennedy: "I have watched at least part of every Supreme Court confirmation hearing since they've been televised, and I would note that this is the first hearing that Sen. Kennedy has not attended since 1965," later says, "We all miss his presence."
Says he's an opponent of "judicial activism," and that the current court has been guilty of such activism over the past 10 years.
2:44: Beginning to administer the oath of testimony to Sotomayor, Schumer catalogues her life history.
"It's exactly what each of us wants for ourselves and our children, and this shared vision is why this moment is historic for all Americans," Schumer says.
2:53: Leahy interrupts Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) during her introduction of Sotomayor, asking that her full remarks be recorded in the record (as opposed to spoken aloud) so Sotomayor can be sworn in.
Gillibrand promises to wrap it up in 20 seconds.
Leahy somewhat reluctantly allows her to continue.
2:58: Sotomayor begins her remarks. Pays tribute to her family, recounts her experiences as a prosecutor.
"My first job after law school was as an assistant District Attorney in New York. There, I saw children exploited and abused. I felt the suffering of victims' families torn apart by a loved one's needless death," Sotomayor says.
3:00: Defends her impartiality: "Throughout my seventeen years on the bench, I have witnessed the human consequences of my decisions. Those decisions have been made not to serve the interests of any one litigant, but always to serve the larger interest of impartial justice."
Says it is a judge's job is not to make the law, but to apply the law. Sotomayor says she has been committed "to interpreting the Constitution on its own terms."
3:02: Sotomayor concludes her remarks saying she seeks the honor of a place on the Court:
"I now seek the honor of upholding the Constitution as a Justice on the Supreme Court. Senators, I look forward in the next few days to answering your questions, to having the American people learn more about me, and to being part of a process that reflects the greatness of our Constitution and of our nation. Thank you," she says.
3:03: Leahy adjourns the hearing for today, thanking the senators for their opening statements, Schumer and Gillibrand for their introductions, and Sotomayor for her remarks. "We will stand in recess until 9:30 tomorrow morning," he says.
See Sotomayor's full remarks, as prepared for delivery, below (distributed by the White House):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I also want to thank Senators Schumer and Gillibrand for that kind introduction.
In recent weeks, I have had the privilege and pleasure of meeting eighty-nine gracious Senators, including all the members of this Committee. I thank you for the time you have spent with me. Our meetings have given me an illuminating tour of the fifty states and invaluable insights into the American people.
There are countless family members, friends, mentors, colleagues, and clerks who have done so much over the years to make this day possible. I am deeply appreciative for their love and support. I want to make one special note of thanks to my mom. I am here today because of her aspirations and sacrifices for both my brother Juan and me. Mom, I love that we are sharing this together. I am very grateful to the President and humbled to be here today as a nominee to the United States Supreme Court.
The progression of my life has been uniquely American. My parents left Puerto Rico during World War II. I grew up in modest circumstances in a Bronx housing project. My father, a factory worker with a third grade education, passed away when I was nine years old.
On her own, my mother raised my brother and me. She taught us that the key to success in America is a good education. And she set the example, studying alongside my brother and me at our kitchen table so that she could become a registered nurse. We worked hard. I poured myself into my studies at Cardinal Spellman High School, earning scholarships to Princeton University and then Yale Law School, while my brother went to medical school. Our achievements are due to the values that we learned as children, and they have continued to guide my life's endeavors. I try to pass on this legacy by serving as a mentor and friend to my many godchildren and students of all backgrounds.
Over the past three decades, I have seen our judicial system from a number of different perspectives - as a big-city prosecutor, a corporate litigator, a trial judge and an appellate judge. My first job after law school was as an assistant District Attorney in New York. There, I saw children exploited and abused. I felt the suffering of victims' families torn apart by a loved one's needless death. And I learned the tough job law enforcement has protecting the public safety. In my next legal job, I focused on commercial, instead of criminal, matters. I litigated issues on behalf of national and international businesses and advised them on matters ranging from contracts to trademarks.
My career as an advocate ended--and my career as a judge began--when I was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. As a trial judge, I decided over four hundred and fifty cases, and presided over dozens of trials, with perhaps my best known case involving the Major League Baseball strike in 1995.
After six extraordinary years on the district court, I was appointed by President William Jefferson Clinton to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. On that Court, I have enjoyed the benefit of sharing ideas and perspectives with wonderful colleagues as we have worked together to resolve the issues before us. I have now served as an appellate judge for over a decade, deciding a wide range of Constitutional, statutory, and other legal questions.
Throughout my seventeen years on the bench, I have witnessed the human consequences of my decisions. Those decisions have been made not to serve the interests of any one litigant, but always to serve the larger interest of impartial justice.
In the past month, many Senators have asked me about my judicial philosophy. It is simple: fidelity to the law. The task of a judge is not to make the law - it is to apply the law. And it is clear, I believe, that my record in two courts reflects my rigorous commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to its terms; interpreting statutes according to their terms and Congress's intent; and hewing faithfully to precedents established by the Supreme Court and my Circuit Court. In each case I have heard, I have applied the law to the facts at hand.
The process of judging is enhanced when the arguments and concerns of the parties to the litigation are understood and acknowledged. That is why I generally structure my opinions by setting out what the law requires and then by explaining why a contrary position, sympathetic or not, is accepted or rejected. That is how I seek to strengthen both the rule of law and faith in the impartiality of our justice system. My personal and professional experiences help me listen and understand, with the law always commanding the result in every case.
Since President Obama announced my nomination in May, I have received letters from people all over this country. Many tell a unique story of hope in spite of struggles. Each letter has deeply touched me. Each reflects a belief in the dream that led my parents to come to New York all those years ago. It is our Constitution that makes that Dream possible, and I now seek the honor of upholding the Constitution as a Justice on the Supreme Court.
I look forward in the next few days to answering your questions, to having the American people learn more about me, and to being part of a process that reflects the greatness of our Constitution and of our nation. Thank you.
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