Sen. Amy Klobuchar got her chance to question Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor late this morning.
Here’s the short version.
Q: You were quoted in the New York Times and said “the one thing I’ve found is if you come into the criminal justice system on a prosecutorial level thinking you can change the ills of society, you’re going to be disappointed.” Elaborate.
A: By the time a criminal defendant ends up in court, they’ve been shaped by their lives. If you want to give people the best opportunity in life, it has to be early childhood forward. If you’re waiting to do that when they’re before a judge in court, your chances of success are diminished.
Q: Explain role of prosecutor vs. judge.
A: My role (as a prosecutor) was to prosecute on behalf of the people of New York. The role is different than if I were a defense attorney. We cannot remedy the ills of society in a courtroom. We can only apply the law based on the facts before us.
Q: Give a specific case of a tough choice you had to make as a prosecutor.
A: I was influenced by a TV show in igniting the passion of being a prosecutor. It was Perry Mason. His story line is in all of the cases he tried — except one — he proved his client innocent and got the actual murderer to confess. In one episode, Perry Mason — with the character who played the prosecutor — met up and Perry said “it must cause you some pain having expended all of that effort to have the charges dismissed.” And the prosecutor looked up and said, “no, my job as a prosecutor is to do justice. And justice is served when a guilty man is convicted and an innocent man is not.” I thought to myself, “that’s quite amazing.”
I had one case with an individual who was charged with committing a larceny from a woman. His defense attorney said ‘this kid is innocent. Please look at his background. He’s a kid with a disability. Look at his life.’ Everything he said was true. I talked to the victim and I had not spoken to her when the case was indicted. I let her tell me the story and it turned out she had never seen who took her pocketbook. In that case, she saw a young man that the police had stopped in a subway station with a black jacket and she thought she had seen a black jacket.”
Q: Talk about U.S. vs. Falso (child porn case)
A: There has been two cases about how much information a warrant needs when the subject is child pornography on a home computer. I joined the part of the opinion that the Constitution had been violated. Then I looked at what the principles are for unreasonable search and seizure and what doctrine it underlays is you don’t want the police violating your Constitutional rights without cause. I had to look at whether we should make the police responsible for the judge’s error.
Q: You made a similar finding in U.S. v. Santa when the court made a clerical error. Someone had been arrested. They found cocaine and you allowed that in.
A: An issue the Supreme Court addressed just this term… I came out the way the Supreme Court did.
Q: A story a few weeks ago said you’ve been tenacious about you and you were criticized for spending too much time on facts, which I thought was unique. Talk about why that’s important.
A: Facts are the basis for the legal decision. A judge deals with a particular legal setting and the fact. To the extent there’s criticism that I do that, we’re not fact-finders, but we have to be sure we understand the facts of the case so we know what legal principle we’re applying it to. A judge’s job is not to answer a hypothetical case; it’s to answer the case that exists.
Q: A report issued last week — Transactional Records Clearing House — found you sent more people to prison when you were a district court judge. You were twice as likely to send white-collar criminals to case. I found those to be challenging when I was a prosecutor — they were pilots, we had a judge. Talk about your view of sentencing of white-collar defendants.
A: When I was a district court judge, the number of victims wasn’t considered. Those are factors one should consider. May of the white-collar sentences you were talking about were focused on looking at the guidelines and insuring that I was considering — as the sentencing statute requires — all of the circumstances of the crime.
In all my cases, I balanced the individual cases with the interests society sought to protect and I applied it evenhandedly to all cases. It’s important to remember the guidelines were mandatory.
Q: What do you think about their not being mandatory guidelines now?
A: They’re still staying within the guidelines because they were a good starting point.
Q: Did you have a chance to watch the All Star Game last night? Most of America didn’t watch the replay of your hearing.
A: I haven’t seen television for a very long time, but I’ll admit I turned it on a little bit.
Q: Your Yankee — Derek Jeter — scored only because there was a hit by our Joe Mauer.
Afterwards, Sen. Klobuchar talked with MPR’s Gary Eichten: