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Senate Judiciary Committee votes to recommend Sotomayor

By a vote of 13-6, the  Judiciary Committee voted to send the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the full Senate. In the two-hour commitee session, Senators reiterated their points from the four days of hearings and also looked to future of Supreme Court nominations.

The six Republican senators who voted against Judge Sotomayor each referenced his concern with her speeches and law review articles, but conceded that her bench record placed her in the mainstream of judicial philosophy. The minority committee members said they believed Judge Sotomayor had rejected President Obama’s “radical empathy standard” for Justices. Sen. Tom Coburn, Okla., said that he could not “vote for her because she wouldn’t defend what she said;” he would rather she had stood by her statements and proved why she will be an impartial judge. Sen. Charles Grassley, Iowa, was the only Senator to express regret that he had voted to confirm retired Justice David H. Souter in 1990.

The one Republican senator to vote for Judge Sotomayor, Sen. Lindsey Graham, S.C., said that “this empathy idea makes us all Dr. Phils.”  But Sen. Graham also demonstrated some empathy, stating that he understood the perspective of his Democratic colleagues who had voted for Chief Justice John G. Roberts in 2005. He said he was voting for a person he would not have chosen, but recognized is well-qualified. Sen. Graham maintained the candor he showed during the hearings and said that Judge Sotomayor’s nomination is not a major shift in the balance of power on the Court: she can be “no worse than Souter” in the Republican point of view.

Throughout the hearings, broad discussion of legal theory and the direction of the Court were rare, but percolated below the Senators’ questioning on specific precedents.  Sen. John Cornyn, Tex. said he thought the hearings process showed a consensus that “original intent, not foreign law” is the proper mode of Constitutional interpretation and approached an agreement with the Hamiltonian vision of the Judiciary outlined in Federalist 78. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, R.I., said that his Republican colleagues are entitled to their point of view on the law, but “resists the effort to define that as a judicial norm against which any other view is to be seen as an abberation.” He sharply stated that he believes the Repubilcan “definition of justice in America is just plain wrong, both as history and as justice.”

Looking ahead to future vacancies on the Court, Sen. Charles Schumer, N.Y., said this process has shown that Republican colleagues will never support anyone nominated by President Obama, no matter how moderate her record. There was a bipartisan call for reform of the advise and consent process, as Senators agreed that the hearings in recent years have become “theater” in which the nominee avoids making any candid statement about her views. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisc., recommended that before future hearings, a bipartisan group should be assembled of Judiciary committee members, members of the bar, constitutional scholars, and members of the media to  draft questions on which the committee can expect specific answers from the nominee.

Video of the session can be seen here.