It has been very difficult to sit through today's questioning of Sonia Sotomayor without wanting to reach through the screen and shake one or two of these distinguished senators. Between the embarrassing fawning of the Democrats and the broken record recitation of her "wise Latina" comment by the Republicans, I can't say that I have learned much more about Judge Sonia Sotomayor than I knew before the hearing started. Given that I am not a lawyer and I can't follow some of the hard core legalese, my reactions have been based mainly on the information that Sotomayor has shared in her responses.
At the beginning of the hearings, Senator Sessions and Senator Hatch asked Sotomayor some of the hardest questions she will likely face with regards to her speeches and her decisions in important cases such as Ricci, in which she ruled against White firefighters who sued the city of New Haven, Connecticut for reverse discrimination. She handled the questions about her impartiality with aplomb, keeping her calm in a situation that would make most women want to jump over the desk.
But her best answers so far have come in response to Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. who directly asked her opinion of Obama's judicial philosophy that all good justices must possess a profound sense of empathy. She responded, "I would not approach judging the same way President Obama does. It's not the heart that compels conclusions in cases, it's the law," effectively shutting down any claims that her "empathy" would impinge on her ability to make impartial decisions.
What has been most frustrating about the persistent line of questioning from the Republicans, including Sen. Kyl, is the blatant disregard for the fact that there is just no way that any honest man or woman could say that their race and gender don't affect their opinions. The hidden subtext of their accusations about her inability to be partial due to her "wise Latina" statement seems to be that the life experiences of White men provide a blank slate from which to craft judgement, while those of women and people of color automatically foster bias and prejudice. Sotomayor forcefully stood behind her "wise Latina" speech, referencing a statement Justice Alito made during his own confirmation hearings, "When I get a case about discrimination," Alito said, "I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background, or because of religion or because of gender, and I do take that in to account."
If you look at Sotomayor's record, you can clearly see that she is as impartial a judge as humanly possible. THIS is what the folks who are trying to decide whether or not she merits appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court should be focusing on. Unfortunately, it is painfully clear that the point of these hearings is not to determine Sonia Sotomayor's merit, but rather for these Senators to hear themselves speak about issues they obviously don't understand. If anyone can honestly say that their race and gender has NOT affected the way they view the world, (including any one of these mostly White, privileged Senators) I'd like to meet them. If this is the worst dirt the Republicans were able to dig up on Sotomayor, then I say we are looking at what is destined to be one of the best Justices ever to be confirmed onto the Supreme Court.