Generally, the witnesses in a Supreme Court confirmation hearing take a backseat to the nominee himself. Sure, there was Anita Hill and all of the drama surrounding Clarence Thomas's extraordinary confirmation hearings. But can you remember anything about those who testified for or against Sam Alito or Ruth Bader Ginsburg? I couldn't. In general, it's the interplay between the senators and the nominees themselves that attracts attention. But this time it could be different. Both sides have tapped big guns for and against the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to be the first Hispanic and only the third female associate justice in the history of the Supreme Court. I'd give a slight edge to the GOP, for sheer cleverness in designing their witness list. Here's why.
The star of the Republican side will be Frank Ricci, the New Haven, Connecticut Firefighter who prevailed in the Supreme Court in the recent affirmative action case. The Supremes overturned the Second Circuit ruling that Sotomayor supported, which upheld New Haven's affirmative action plan. Ricci makes an extremely sympathetic witness, something that Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged to Emily Bazelon in The New York Times Magazine. Dyslexic, he studied like a demon for the firefighters exam only to lose out his promotion. He'll be a compelling witness and one the networks will surely turn to for sound bites. That said, most of the rest of the Republican picks are what you would expect, including perennial affirmative action critic Linda Chavez of the Center for Equal Opportunity. (I was a staffer at the Civil Rights Commission in the 1980s when Chavez was executive director.)