The “disturbing” behavior of some senators questioning Sotomayor underscores the need to reform the process

LatinaLista — By now, everyone knows Judge Sotomayor will be the first Latina Supreme Court justice. The senators cross-examining her have either alluded to that fact or have just come out and admitted it.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor
Yet, even if Sotomayor was not assured to be sworn into office, she has already won widespread admiration and respect for the way she handled herself during questioning that bordered on harassment rather than discovering if she was truly qualified.
Political pundits are saying that the conservative senators who subjected Sotomayor to the most infuriating lines of questioning did so to set benchmarks for President Obama if he should have the opportunity to nominate another Supreme Court Justice.
However, what was clear from these hearings was that senators followed no guidelines in how they asked their questions or what they asked and their intent to “trap” her was so blatantly obvious that it diminished their roles as the public’s voice in determining how and why she was qualified.
This is yet another example of something in Washington that has been done for so long in one way that people accept there is no better way.
From these hearings, we have seen there has to be a better way to determine a potential candidate’s qualifications for the Supreme Court.


For starters,
1. There should be an equal number of male and female congressional members doing the questioning.
2. There should be a conscious decision to have a balanced committee of conservatives and liberals.
3. All questions should be submitted beforehand to ensure that there is not a repeat of questions nor do they border on harassment but stick to a strict line of questioning that deals with qualifications and experience.
4. Sanction any senator who browbeats a candidate to get the answer they’re looking for or frames a question with the intent of “trapping” an appointee.
5. Forbid senators actively involved in the questioning to go before the media during the confirmation hearings to comment publicly about how they will vote or what they think of the candidate’s answers.
This is only the beginning but it’s a start.

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20 Comments

  1. Horace said:

    “However, what was clear from these hearings was that senators followed no guidelines in how they asked their questions or what they asked and their intent to “trap” her was so blatantly obvious that it diminished their roles as the public’s voice in determining how and why she was qualified.”
    Yeah, how relevent was Al Franken’s banter regarding Perry Mason shows, or SM’s upbringing? Her personal affairs, i.e. her mother, brother, the fact that she was a minority Puerto Rican were all brought forth and presented as qualifications when in fact they are not. Imagine what would happen if a white candidate’s ethnicity or race was used as an salient attribute for the judicary. Minorities would be up in arms. At least the Republicans asked her some serious questions concerning how much fidelity her rulings would have with the Constitution of the U.S. The dems were all fawning with praise and had few if any questions relating to her mindset with respect to the law.

  2. Horace said:

    You obviously do not understand the nature of Congress. Each senator is an individual representative of his state constituency and not subject to the dictates of a central body. These people have the freedom to ask whatever questions he/she deems fit, in whatever manner they desire. These people are equals within that body and are not subject to the will of the others.
    I find this amusing: “Forbid senators actively involved in the questioning to go before the media during the confirmation hearings to comment publicly about how they will vote or what they think of the candidate’s answers.” There’s no superior individual or body that can forbid a senator from doing anything he/she’s feels necessary to do when it comes to doing their job. Try doing your homework on this and maybe you will not look so foolish as a pundit.

  3. kenda said:

    I agree, the process is broken. The only quibble I have is with point # 1. I’d love for there to be an equal number of men and women doing the questioning, but considering that out of 100 senators fewer than 20 are women, I don’t see that happening any time soon.
    To get better representation in committees, we need better Senatorial representation in general (i.e. more women, racial minorities, religious minorities, etc.)

  4. Marisa Treviño said:

    Kenda, Thank you so much for noticing that. What I didn’t further write, because I realized the same thing, was that maybe it’s time to open up questioning with representatives from both the Senate and the House. With an appointment such as this, and there are others that could qualify, I think it’s time this concentrated power/influence was distributed between both the House and the Senate.

  5. Karen said:

    Horace, nobody ever said that being a minority was a qualification. Why is it that Italian-Americans can talk about being Italian all the time and that’s OK, but if you are Latino, you can never mention your ethnicity?
    You should read the transcripts of Justice Alito’s confirmation hearings. He talks about his Italian heritage, and he says that he feels empathy for immigrants because his own Italian ancestors immigrated here.
    But that’s OK.
    Sorry, but we can talk about our backgrounds too, and if you don’t like it too bad.
    As for the hearing, honestly, I didn’t think it was that bad. I have seen much, much worse–Thomas and Bork.

  6. Horace said:

    “You should read the transcripts of Justice Alito’s confirmation hearings. He talks about his Italian heritage, and he says that he feels empathy for immigrants because his own Italian ancestors immigrated here.
    But that’s OK.”
    Empathy toward immigrants isn’t empathy towards illegal immigrants, who, under the law are not legally recognized as immigrants. They are merely trespassers contemptuous of our immigration laws and are treated as such by every nation on the planet.
    Your statement doesn’t answer change my assertion. I never stated nor do I believe that Alito’s testimony about his extrajudical experiences are relevent. That’s your belief, not mine. What is the point of knowing that he grew up in an Italian neigborhood and did whatever to earn his way through school? That’s the type of information that college administrators want to know of a prospective entrant. When you apply for a job does anyone ask you about what your parents do for a living or how they killed themselves putting you through college? Why should such information be relevent to the conformation procedures? That’s the softball type of smoke and mirrors background information that all who blindly support SM believe should be asked.

  7. Horace said:

    I’m amazed that there are so many Latinos in this blog who, taking offence by the committee’s questioning, shamelessly feel so free to attack Anglos as a race. So many Hispanics seem compelled to build their race up by pointing out the deficienies in others, real or othewise.

  8. arturo fernandez said:

    The Republicans are ridiculous in saying that judicial philosophy should be unaffected by background. It is not a coincidence that judges in the US aren’t making decisions from an aboriginal perspective. Our tradition is American, European, Western. Sotomayor’s “wise latina” comment in the context of her record as judge should teach us that US hispanics assimilate as completely as anyone else. Too bad Sotomayor took back her statement at the hearings instead of emphasizing it. But like I said, Republicans are ridiculous.
    I like that the word Latina points out gender. In that respect, she will indeed bring better perspective to the Supreme Court, where the male perspective currently dominates 8 to 1. Better, because it’s a better balance. A gay or lesbian would be great next, because they are less concerned with gender as identity

  9. arturo fernandez said:

    “…I never stated nor do I believe…”
    Horace, what you believe is not important, and so not interesting. That those at the hearings, US Senators, are making a big deal of it now and did not at the Alito hearings is the point. Why now and not then?
    Though I believe that empathy should most certainly guide us in how we deal with illegal immigrants, what you quoted and responded said nothing of illegal immigrants.

  10. arturo fernandez said:

    it should be “…and responded to…”

  11. Karen said:

    Re: “What is the point of knowing that he grew up in an Italian neigborhood and did whatever to earn his way through school?”
    My point is that when Alito discussed ethnicity and empathy, Republicans did not care. No matter what a white man says or does Republicans view him as “impartial.”
    When Sotomayor mentioned ethnicity–in a speech– they had a fit and questioned her ability to judge even though she has already been a judge for 17 years!
    Sorry, but this notion that all white men are impartial, and all minorities are biased is a crock, and I’m glad Sotomayor exposed it.

  12. cookie said:

    I agree, Horace. Are their egos so sensitive that they feel they have to attack and blame the white race and Republicans for all their ills?
    I don’t understand this tribal mentality that they have either. It’s as though they want to keep themselves separate from other ethnic groups rather than joining mainstream America. Their outlandish demands and constant state of victimhood is troubling to say the least. I fear for the future of this country based on their attitudes.

  13. Saoirse said:

    Karen, are you for real here? Latinos ALWAYS mention their “ethnicity” to an ad nauseum degree. It is sickening. That is all we heard about Sotomayor, she was Latina, she was Puerto Rican, come on get real.
    “Horace, nobody ever said that being a minority was a qualification. Why is it that Italian-Americans can talk about being Italian all the time and that’s OK, but if you are Latino, you can never mention your ethnicity?”

  14. Evelyn said:

    Arturo fernandez :
    The Republicans are ridiculous
    You are correct Arturo, this proves it.
    Patiently, Sotomayor Schools GOP Senators
    Posted by Jill Filipovic, RH Reality Check at 8:00 AM on July 17, 2009.
    If there’s one thing that this week’s Senate confirmation hearings made clear, it’s that Judge Sotomayor is not just a great mind, but a patient and generous teacher. Surrounded by senators who seemed primarily concerned with topping each other in condescension, Sotomayor responded with respect, nuance and a solid grounding in the law – to the point where the hearings sometimes felt like a high school civics class, with Sotomayor explaining the fundamentals of our legal system. The biggest surprises of the hearings so far haven’t come from Sotomayor herself, but from the ignorance and arrogance shown by some members of the GOP. And the biggest pay-off won’t just be from Sotomayor’s confirmation – although that will certainly happen – but from the GOP’s torching of any goodwill it hasn’t already set aflame with women and racial minorities.
    In the hearings, Sotomayor faced down Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama senator with a notoriously racially troubled past. Sessions sat in Sotomayor’s seat when Ronald Regan nominated him for a federal judgeship. The Senate Judiciary Committee killed his nomination after it came to light that he joked that he used to think the Ku Klux Klan wasn’t so bad until he found out some of them smoked marijuana, and he believed the NAACP and the ACLU to be “un-American and “Communist-inspired” – his biggest grievance with the groups being that they “forced” civil rights down our collective throats. Watching Sotomayor respond to Sessions’ sneering questions with insightful and polite answers was simultaneously infuriating and inspiring – I’m not sure I could have been nearly as composed, but she certainly put to rest any concerns about her “temperament.”
    Or at least, she put those concerns to rest in the minds of reasonable people. Sen. Lindsey Graham wasn’t satisfied, and had the nerve to read off several anonymous and unattributed statements about Sotomayor’s “temperament problem.” His point was that Sotomayor is too mean and too harsh in her questioning to be a good judge – a concern rarely raised with aggressive male judges like Antonin Scalia. But instead of making her look unreasonable or “temperamental” (what is she, a racehorse?), he succeeded only in making himself look like a bully and a fool, targeting her personality instead of her record. Like many others in the GOP, he threw in some references to her “Wise Latina” comment for good measure – after all, someone in the studio audience may not be aware that she’s not white.
    And it only went downhill on Wednesday. Abortion-related queries predictably came up on both days, but were driven home with staunch anti-choice Sen. Tom Coburn’s line of questioning. After asking her about the current state of abortion laws in the United States as if he didn’t know – there’s that condescension again – Coburn took the hearings as an opportunity to lecture her, saying, “I don’t expect you to answer this, but I do expect you to pay attention to it as you contemplate these big issues,” before fixating on viability and fetal heartbeats.
    Can you picture Sen. Coburn rhetorically shaking his finger like that at Scalia or Chief Justice Roberts?
    If that wasn’t enough, Coburn then told Sotomayor, “You’ll have lots of ‘splainin’ to do” in a back-and-forth about the Second Amendment and self-defense. Only in our “post-racial” era can old white men criticize a highly-educated, accomplished Latina jurist for being “racist” and not adequately colorblind, accuse her of being an affirmative action pick, and then throw a Ricky Ricardo quote at her.
    But perhaps the most offensive aspect of the hearings was some of the senators’ blatant misrepresentations and feigned ignorance of the law. Senator Coburn’s request that Sotomayor explain the status of abortion rights was just the tip of the iceberg. In his line of questioning on Wednesday, Sen. Orrin Hatch asked Sotomayor her opinion on judges “reading rights into the Constitution.” Certainly Sen. Hatch is familiar with the Ninth Amendment, which states simply that “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people” – in other words, just because a right isn’t explicitly delineated in the Constitution doesn’t mean that the government is free to violate it. Even more egregious was Sen. Graham’s contention that the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, on whose board Sotomayor sat, argued in a brief that refusing to use taxpayer funds for abortion is akin to slavery. In fact, PRLDEF used the infamous Dredd v. Scott case to make the point that the anti-abortion law in question treated poor women as less than citizens under the law – the same mistake notoriously made in Dredd.
    Throughout it all, though, Sotomayor remained poised and calm, answering the questions thoughtfully and thoroughly – much the same way she writes her opinions. Her knowledge of the law, her preparation and her presentation were absolute perfection – and serve as another example of a woman of color having to do things twice as well as everyone else in order to succeed (and she still has her intelligence, temperament and aptitude questioned).
    There is almost no doubt that she will be confirmed. What remains to be seen is just how much damage these hearings will do to an already battered Republican Party. If Democrats are smart, they will replay these clips ad nauseum, and let all of America – and not just the nerds who streamed CSPAN at work – see just how Republicans act when they sit face-to-face with a woman of color (especially one whose accomplishments trump their own and may in their eyes be a little too big for her britches). I wonder what the female, non-white or even rudimentarily racially aware GOP constituents will think when they see the condescension and disdain heaped upon a woman who graciously responds with nothing but patience and tolerance.
    I suspect the senators will have some “splainin” to do.
    http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/141387/patiently%2C_sotomayor_schools_gop_senators/#more

  15. jomamma said:

    I don’t wish to insult miss trevino with my comment but:
    1) The purpose of these hearings and the whole confirmation proccess is to determine if an individual who is nominated to be a supreme court justice, is truly prepared to gauge a case, which is brought before them, against the U.S. CONSTITUTION, based on PURE LAW—NOT— on personal experiences or emotional hype. The job of the senators is to determine if this nominee is capable to do that, so I would say that it is their job to ask pointy uncomfortable questions. So now my answers:
    1)Yes—but only if there are an equal number of both genders in congress or the senate, People elected by WE THE PEOPLE, not by force of such a law mandating it. We decide by vote if a man or a woman is elected to congress or the senate, we can let that, be the gauge, anything else it would by by force, and that would not work well (unconstitutional).
    2)NOT true: what if those (members) just happen to be-neither- dems or coserv should they be excluded from the proccess?
    3)Maybe we should ask the noninee before hand, as to what questions are politicaly correct, or what they’re willing to answer on, we don’t want the person to be uncomfortable or say something that will cause him/her a problem! Many questions are asked two or more times differently, because the nominee was very evasive with her answers to begin with.
    4)There cannot be any hinderance to the senators with regards to the questions they ask, or the manner in which they ask those questions, the senators function is –TO TRAP–the nominee and force him/her to answer unsavory questions. If the senators cannot ask anything uncofortable or something the nominee was not prepared for, prior to the confimation hearing, then why should they waste the time and money to have the hearings anyway.
    5) In this case ms. Trevino you are saying that we should take away, the senators freedom of speech, and prevent them from telling those who elected them (the public), what they think of the candidate based on his/her answers.
    Maybe ms trevino It would be prudent for you to pick up a constitution book, read it a few times so you can understand it. The supreme court justices are supposed to rule based on pure law, not on emotional hype. If the people nominated to be justices are confirmed based on emotional hype, then all of us majorities and minorities will be LESS free, and more angry bacause our emotional needs aren’t met.

  16. Horace said:

    jomamma,
    Thank you for putting Ms. Trevino in her place. She obviously has no clue as to how an employment vetting process should be done, or how independent every congressman is of the will of his/her colleagues when it comes to acting in what he or she believes is in the best interests of their constituency.

  17. Karen said:

    Re: “That is all we heard about Sotomayor, she was Latina, she was Puerto Rican, come on get real.”
    The media mentioned it night and day. It’s so funny how you pretend that white people don’t care about race at all, and it’s only minorities who harp on it all the time. White people invented racial classifications.
    White people are allowed to talk about their heritage all the time, but that is considered “normal.” I have never met an Italian-American who did not mention over and over again that he/she is Italian.
    An American of Greek descent makes a movie called “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” and that’s OK. If an American of Mexican descent made a movie called “My Big Fat Mexican Wedding,” you guys would have a fit. (For this excercise to work, you must pretend for a moment that Mexican-Americans are allowed to make movies.)
    If a white college student studies the history of Germany, Ireland or England, that’s OK. If a Puerto Rican college student takes a class on history of Puerto Rico, as Sotomayor did in college, then it’s an “ethnic studies” class.
    I’m tired of the double standard.

  18. Karen said:

    Jomomma:
    The Republican Senators asked her little or nothing about the law. I remember the Thomas hearings and they asked him detailed questions about points of law, my guess is because they knew he wouldn’t be able to answer them.
    These Senators didn’t bother because Sotomayor’s been a judge for 17 years and they knew she had a good record and that she would be confirmed. So they just used the opportunity to grandstand.
    Furthermore, some of them used the opportunity to vent their own emotional frustrations. Lindsey Graham said to Sotomayor: “Now, let’s talk about you. I like you, by the way, for whatever that matters. Since I may vote for you that ought to matter to you.”
    LOL Yeah, I’m sure she cares if he likes her.
    He also said to Sotomayor, “Some of your statements bug the hell out of me.”
    That sounds like an emotional statement to me.
    When the Republican Senators accused her of being emotional and biased, they were just projecting.
    As for these types of hearings, they are not mandatory. They didn’t start holding them until recently. Before they even begin, the Senators already know whether or not the person will be confirmed.

  19. Marisa Treviño said:

    Horace, the cluelessness I leave to you — read the post again. And please know that nobody puts me, or anyone else, in their place in this forum. This is supposed to be an exchange of different opinions. If that is what you are after then maybe Latina Lista is not the site for you.

  20. pablo said:

    “White people invented racial classifications.”
    This assertion shows how ignorant the writer is. Racial, ethnic and tribal classifications have been around since time immmorial. Ancient history is rife with tales of wars waged on that basis. As a matter of fact, today it is non-white people who are more likely to involved in intratribal warfare. History shows us that African and American Indian tribes were waging war with one another long before Europeans arrived on this continent. Slavery existed in Africa and North America long before Europeans came. It was common practice among Africans and Amerindians to enslave their enemies. No, while it is widely acknowledged that white people have been guilty of racism, far more people have been killed in racial feuds by non-whites. Some ethnocentrics and racial potstirrers wish to put it all on whites, but it’s simply not true.

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