Sotomayor signals support for Supreme Court TV
WASHINGTON – Judge Sonia Sotomayor signaled an openness to television coverage of Supreme Court proceedings Thursday as she neared the end of three grueling days of questioning, all but assured of confirmation.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Judiciary Committee that is holding this week’s hearings, said he would set a vote for next week. Republicans have the right to a one-week postponement, he noted.
Even so, that would place the 55-year-old appeals court judge on track to don the robes of a justice in time for Sept. 9 Supreme Court arguments on campaign finance issues.
Sotomayor, the first Hispanic nominated for the high court, drew praise from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. described her judicial record as “generally in the mainstream” and said he thought she would keep an open mind on gun rights. Graham, who has said previously he may vote to confirm Sotomayor, said she was “not an activist.”
Another Republican, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, also called Sotomayor’s rulings “pretty much in the mainstream,” although he said her assertions of impartiality at the hearings were strikingly at odds with her past remarks.
“You appear to be a different person almost in your speeches and in some of the comments that you’ve made” before the Judiciary panel, Cornyn said.
Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., told Sotomayor, “you’ve done quite an outstanding job as witness,” and talked to her as though he were giving a takeaway message to a future justice.
Once she is on the court, he said, he hopes she will use her experience “to battle out the ideas that you believe in.” He also referred to ideological battles popping up periodically among the justices, a clear reference to conservatives who hold at least four and sometimes a majority of five votes on key rulings.
Specter raised the question of televising the Supreme Court, a cause he has championed for years.
Sotomayor said cameras were allowed in her federal appeals courtroom as part of a pilot study and “my experience has generally been positive.”
Asked if she would encourage the other justices to allow cameras into the high court, she said:
“I would certainly relay my experiences. To the extent some of them may not know about the pilot study in many courts, I would share that with them, although I do suspect they do know, and will participate in discussions with them on this issue. And those things I would do, Senator.”
Justice David Souter has long opposed televising the court’s sessions, but his retirement opened the way for her appointment, and possibly a change in the no-camera rule.
Across three days of questioning, Sotomayor sidestepped numerous questions on controversial issues ranging from campaign finance law to guns and abortion.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. got a dirct one-word answer, though, when he asked Sotomayor if she thought the court’s combined rulings on abortion had ended a national controversy that has flared since 1973.
“No,” she said after a brief pause.
Leahy has said he expcts Sotomayor will win some Republican votes, and Graham has dropped several hints he may be one of them.
He was not in the Senate when Sotomayor was confirmed to the appeals court in 1998, but several other Republicans were.
Among them, Sens. Robert Bennett of Utah, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Richard Lugar of Indiana and Olympia Snowe of Maine all voted in favor of her confirmation.
In that group, only Hatch is a member of the Judiciary Committee that is conducting this week’s hearings.
Democrats devoted some of their question time to allowing Sotomayor to make her closing argument on her last day of face-to-face exchanges with the panel that will cast the first votes on her confirmation.
Asked by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., what historians would make of her, Sotomayor said, “I can’t live my life to write history’s story.” Then she added, “I hope it will say I’m a fair judge, I was a caring person and that I lived my life serving my country.”
Despite her years of judging, Republicans continued to focus more on Sotomayor’s writings and speeches. Some said they were still worried she would bring bias and a political agenda to the bench.
“It’s muddled, confusing, backtracking on issue after issue,” complained Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel. “I frankly am a bit disappointed in the lack of clarity and consistency in her answers.”
But Republicans conceded that Sotomayor had not committed any major mistake that might derail her nomination.
Once she finishes testifying, Republicans plan to call New Haven, Conn., firefighter Frank Ricci, who passed a promotion exam only to see the city toss out the results because too few minorities qualified for promotion. His ensuing discrimination complaint gives the GOP another chance to portray Sotomayor as a judge who allows bias to dictate the outcome of a case.
Ricci’s reverse discrimination claim was rejected and that decision was upheld by Sotomayor and two other appeals court judges. The Supreme Court overturned their ruling late last month.
Sotomayor has said repeatedly that her panel was bound by precedent, an assertion that was challenged in an opinion by fellow appeals Judge Jose Cabranes, her one-time mentor. On Thursday, she sidestepped pointed questions from Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who demanded to know what precedents she relied on for the decision.
In nearly a dozen hours of questioning so far, Sotomayor has warded off frequent attempts to get her to weigh in on any major issue that could come before her as a justice. That’s typical of Supreme Court nominees.