Little substance at Sotomayor hearings

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Some senators at the Supreme Court nomination hearings of Sonia Sotomayor seemed to chafe a bit today because the answers seemed evasive. Now they know how voters feel when the politicians provide vague and evasive answers at debates around election time.

Their goal is to get re-elected. Her goal is to get the Supreme Court job, and weighty political and judicial discourse will have to wait for the lecture circuit.

If there was ever a subject that could have led to a wonderful discussion on the Constitution, it was the one asked by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., on whether Sotomayor had any constitutional qualms in the days after 9/11.

Oh, gosh, where to begin? Eavesdropping of conversations and e-mail, the Patriot Act, government snooping on library records, arresting people without pressing charges? Are we too quick to throw the Constitution under the bus when we’re scared?

Sotomayor’s answer made it abundantly clear that she had been well coached to say nothing interesting, let alone controversial.

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Of course, Feingold’s question may well have been an attempt to draw the judge into the brewing controversy over a reported hit squad program in the CIA in the days after 9/11. But she did not take the bait.

Still, it’s becoming clear that a Supreme Court nomination hearing is not the time for honest dialog about the law. Again.

Tom Goldstein, who is live-blogging the hearings on ScotusBlog, says he’s not surprised.

“She’s following the tradition of saying very little. Ideologically, I’d say the hearings so far have confirmed to me that she’s on the middle left. Intellectually, she does seem quite well informed and very capable of covering a lot of complicated topics without difficulty. So, she’s quite smart,” he said.

Certainly smart enough not to say anything that will get her nomination in trouble.

  • Chris

    Who’s got the burden of proof here? She’s been appointed by the president for the job. The purpose for the hearing isn’t for her to volunteer to stick her neck out so some partisan idealogue can chop it off. No, the hearing is an opportunity for someone with a legitimate reason that she shouldn’t be on the court to bring forth the goods.

    There are no such goods, so that’s why the hearing lacks substance. Her opponents arguments have none.

  • Bob Collins

    Well, that’s pretty much my point. The strategy is to keep your neck in to keep it from getting chopped off.

    But, it seems to me, there’s really no reason to broadcast these hearings if they really don’t have an intellectual purpose and are just another act in the political process.

    But in the absence of that intellectual process, is also a missed opportunity to have the political process be a place where intellect — like a neck — can be exercised in the interest of a more informed citizenry.

    So, yes, I understand why she doesn’t do it and why the process is purely a political one.

    I also understand that in the absence of courage, talk shows get to set the national dialogue.

  • Lawrence

    I think the thing that bothers me the most about these hearings is whether or not Sotomayor has racial animus towards whites. You know, nobody asked Republican Senators did they have racial animus toward Hispanics when they vetoed George W. Bush’s guest worker visa program in 2006. Yet, the minute Republicans think white men are under unfair scrutiny, all of the sudden the country gets another revisionist education about the Declaration of Independence. But what really irks me, is that the Supreme Court’s duties does not solely reside in civil rights disputes. The Supreme Court oversees all laws, not just racially based ones. Yet, no one has really bothered to ask Sotomayor her views about other legal matters. Is she supposed to be the token civil rights activist and that’s it, or is she a terrific lawyer competent in many matters besides this one?

  • Susan

    Is this 2009, or are we in a time warp? I can’t believe that you would find Tom Goldstein’s comment appropriate to quote. Think of this same comment about Alito or Roberts during their confirmation hearings:

    “Intellectually, he does seem quite well informed and very capable of covering a lot of complicated topics without difficulty. So, he’s quite smart.”

    One can only surmise that, Intellectually, the guys here are not so well informed – first, that Mr. Goldstein thinks the intelligence of a Supreme Court nominee is worthy of comment and, second, that Mr. Collins thinks such a comment is news.