Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Of Nunchucks and Cedarbaums

I listened to most of the live streaming of the Sotomayor confirmation hearing yesterday and it was pretty much as expected; the Republicans tried to catch her up on some of her famous comments such as the “wise Latina” phrase and her ruling in the Ricci case, while the Democrats came to her defense and asked her leading questions in an attempt to run interference on some of the more touchy legal matters like reproductive choice and the 2nd Amendment. For the most part — heck, for the whole part — the judge was calm, cool, and occasionally smiling as she gently outlined the context of a quote or a ruling. There weren’t any fireworks, but there was a nice moment when Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) tried to criticize her judicial philosophy by citing Judge Miriam Cedarbaum as being an example of judicial restraint. Judge Sotomayor smiled, agreed, and pointed to Judge Cedarbaum, who was in the audience as one of her supporters. Gulp. (It also seems that Sen. Sessions was going out of his way to alienate Hispanic voters by pointing out that Judge Sotomayor didn’t rule like other Puerto Rican judges.)

The Republicans seemed to be unable to escape their own IOKIYAR moments; Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) told NPR that the “empathy” issue troubled him, but he had no problem supporting Judge Samuel Alito when he made the exact same comment, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) spent some time citing unnamed sources that said that Judge Sotomayor had “temper” issues; this in spite of the fact that he spent most of last year being the lapdog of Sen. John McCain, whose skill at anger management is still untested. Perhaps the best moment was when the judge had to explain to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) what nunchucks are.

Regardless of the party in power, these hearings are usually studies in foregone conclusions. The vetting process that takes place long before the first gavel and harrumph pretty much assures that the president will get the person he wants and these days of questions have rarely produced the sought-after “meltdown.” The best part is finding out how far some senators will go to make fools of themselves on C-SPAN. That is a source of endless entertainment.