Archive for Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cast of characters to be quizzing Sotomayor

July 12, 2009


Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., right, huddles with the committee’s ranking Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., June 18 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Starting Monday, Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings promise high political theater for lead players Sessions and Leahy.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., right, huddles with the committee’s ranking Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., June 18 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Starting Monday, Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings promise high political theater for lead players Sessions and Leahy.

— Live from the Capitol, Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings promise high political theater this week, beamed to the world in dramatic, historic, perhaps comedic glory.

When the curtain rises Monday on Sotomayor’s nomination to become the Supreme Court’s first Hispanic justice, a large cast of ambitious players will be ready to explore themes from racial conflict to legal controversy, as well as personal facts and views.

If this is a show, top billing must go to Sotomayor herself, the federal appeals court judge who grew up in a New York housing project where her parents had moved from Puerto Rico. But with camera-loving politicians in charge, the Senate Judiciary Committee drama won’t be just about her.

This is about them, too.

Two lawmakers, a Vermont liberal and an Alabama conservative, will have leading roles. Backing them is a supporting cast that will include the Defenders, the Patriarch, the Doyenne, the Wild Card and the Novice.

Visually, they’ll be grouped like this: Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Sotomayor at center stage facing each other. Eleven other Senate Democrats — nine white men, two white women — will sit to the audience’s right, eager to help Sotomayor defend herself against any conservative charges. Their mandate: do no harm to her overwhelming prospects for taking over retired Justice David Souter’s seat on the nine-member court.

On the audience’s left — but to the right on your scorecard — will be seven white male Republican senators with a delicate task: respectfully challenging the Latina nominee — on crutches, recovering from a broken ankle — without alienating women or Hispanics.

And try to do it while facing two visible reminders of the GOP’s rout in the 2008 elections.

Seated at the end of the Democratic side will be Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, until this year a Republican, and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., the former TV comedian making his Senate debut.

A viewer’s guide to the faces certain to nab key screen time during the Sotomayor’s made-for-TV hearings.

The Lead Players

Chairman Leahy, D-Vt.:

If he looks familiar, it could be because he’s been in the Senate for more than three decades and participated in hearings of every Supreme Court nominee since now-retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Or it could be the Batman movies. With white hair and bifocals, the man with the gavel has had cameos in all of them, and a speaking part in “The Dark Knight.”

Leahy, 69, will be in charge of keeping senators to their allotted 30 minutes for questions, tamping down the inevitable showboating and issuing stern warnings to any protesters who get out of hand.

It’s good to be chairman, by the way: He can allot himself all the time he wants to rebut points Republicans try to make or to ask clarifying questions of the nominee. Leahy was a state prosecutor for eight years before coming to the Senate. The grandfather of five is an avid photographer seen at previous hearings snapping pictures of news photographers as they snap photos of him.

Ranking Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama:

Taking his first turn as the lead Republican at a Supreme Court hearing, the 62-year-old Sessions will sit next to Leahy and, in broad terms, try to reassure the vanquished GOP base that their interests are being represented in this most visible forum.

Sessions wants to know whether Sotomayor allows personal views, not just the law, to influence her rulings. He has raised doubts about her support for the constitutional right to keep and bear arms and her association with a Puerto Rican civil rights group before she became a federal judge 17 years ago.

But conservative critics of Sotomayor have been unable to get the Senate’s 40 Republicans to stand together against her, and Sessions has said he doesn’t “sense a filibuster in the works” to block her confirmation.

The Defenders

Senate Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois and Charles Schumer of New York:

They’re Obama’s guys, for different reasons.

Durbin, in his third term at 64, is the president’s chief ally in the Senate and served with him during Obama’s meteoric rise. Schumer, 58, in his second term, represents Sotomayor’s home state, and is thus her sponsor. By tradition, he will introduce her to the committee when the hearings open.

Durbin and Schumer have leadership positions in their party, are regarded by Republicans as fierce partisans and are fond recipients of news coverage. They share a house with other members of Congress in Washington while away from their families.

The Patriarch

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah:

Hatch, 75, has been the committee chairman twice and participated in hearings for eight Supreme Court justices. A musician and great-grandfather, Hatch is known for a generally cool demeanor that sometimes gives way to frank rejoinders.

He has a strong conservative philosophy, and in past hearings he staunchly defended the troubled nominations of Robert Bork (who wasn’t confirmed) and Clarence Thomas (who was). But Hatch has departed from party dogma, too, on stem cell research and other issues.

He has said he’s concerned that Sotomayor takes a “somewhat dim view of the Second Amendment” to the Constitution to keep and bear arms. But he also has said he’s keeping an open mind and generally believes presidents should be given leeway on the people they nominate.

The Wild Card

Specter, D-Pa.:

“Snarlin’ Arlen,” 79, enters these hearings more experienced at running them than Leahy, yet without the privileges of the seniority that ordinarily comes with five Senate terms.

Democrats stripped him of that when he joined their party this year. He switched, he said, because he could not have won a GOP primary in Pennsylvania as a Republican.

Specter is not expected to behave in the traditionally deferential manner of a junior senator. He was chairman at the hearings of now-Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. And he knows Senate tradition, the law and the Constitution as well as any expert in the room. He’s famous for bucking the leadership of his party, a trait that vexed the Bush White House.

The Doyenne

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

In her fourth term, Feinstein, 76, is the most senior woman on the committee and represents a statewide constituency that is 36 percent Hispanic and half women, according to the Census Bureau.

Feinstein told reporters last week she plans pushing back hard against any Republican implication that Sotomayor might be an “activist judge” who tries to make laws from the bench. Roberts and Alito, Feinstein said, have participated in high court reversals of precedent plenty of times since their confirmations, though they pledged to not be activists.

Now head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein has considerable clout in the Senate and with Obama’s White House. Viewers might recall her presiding over Obama’s inauguration in January.

The Novice

Franken, D-Minn.:

The former “Saturday Night Live” performer is now 100th out of 100 senators in seniority. Not a lawyer, he was awarded a committee seat almost as soon as he was sworn into office this past week.

Franken had less than two weeks to prepare for these hearings. But as a veteran of the big stage, he just might fit right in.


Flap Doodle 8 years, 10 months ago

"Mess with the American left, its agenda, its candidate, or its appointees, and watch out! They will come after you. Well-funded organizations have the professional staff and all the resources needed to poke and pry into your life and background looking for ammunition, looking for anything negative that can be passed along to faithful and determined media allies to be used to discredit or destroy.

Sonia Sotomayor’s curt ruling in Ricci v. DeStefano (later overturned by the Supreme Court) is an obvious major vulnerability, so Norman Lear’s ultraliberal People for the American Way, as McClatchey reports, is painting a bright orange target on the middle of the back of the 35 year old fireman who brought the suit in the first place.

Supporters of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor are quietly targeting the Connecticut firefighter who’s at the center of Sotomayor’s most controversial ruling.

On the eve of Sotomayor’s Senate confirmation hearing, her advocates have been urging journalists to scrutinize what one called the “troubled and litigious work history” of firefighter Frank Ricci.

This is opposition research: a constant shadow on Capitol Hill. ...

On Friday, citing in an e-mail “Frank Ricci’s troubled and litigious work history,” the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way drew reporters’ attention to Ricci’s past. Other advocates for Sotomayor have discreetly urged journalists to pursue similar story lines.

Specifically, the advocates have zeroed in on an earlier 1995 lawsuit Ricci filed claiming the city of New Haven discriminated against him because he’s dyslexic. The advocates cite other Hartford Courant stories from the same era recounting how Ricci was fired by a fire department in Middletown, Conn., allegedly, Ricci said at the time, because of safety concerns he raised.

The Middletown-area fire department was subsequently fined for safety violations, but the Connecticut Department of Labor dismissed Ricci’s retaliation complaint.

No People for the American Way officials could be reached Friday to speak on the record about the press campaign."

Satirical 8 years, 10 months ago

Sotomayor shouldn't be confirmed. I would hope a wise Caucasian male would more more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina woman.

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