Supremely Cautious

Our View: Four Days Of Questioning Not Only Produced Little To Disqualify Her, They Revealed Precious Little Of Judge Sotomayor's Views On Most Any Topic

July 19, 2009

Despite all the buildup and anticipation on Capitol Hill leading to last week's confirmation hearings, the Senate Judiciary Committee's 15 hours of grilling Judge Sonia Sotomayor produced a week of tedium and polite reticence. The only fireworks were contained within the soliloquies of senators fervently expressing their own views of legal issues but rarely revealing the Supreme Court nominee's.

If the advise and consent function of the Senate took a turn too far toward spectacle, partisanship and electronic inquisition with the nomination of Robert H. Bork two decades ago, it has turned into something altogether different - and perhaps just as problematic - for so many of the nominations since then.

Just as John G. Roberts Jr. demonstrated four years ago the ease by which a qualified, non-firebrand nominee can win approval by saying as little as possible about matters that might come before the court, Judge Sotomayor's refusal to tip her hand on abortion, gun rights, campaign finances and a host of other controversies is a strategy likely to win her Senate confirmation with some measure of opposition party support.

This is partly the committee's doing. Too many questions were unproductive. How many times can a nominee explain the phrase "wise Latina" before the questioners realize they aren't going to hear a different result? Did they even care?

Opponents came armed with little ammunition aside from such remarks (often taken out of context) because Judge Sotomayor's record on the federal bench so clearly reflects the mainstream, a point even Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham made during the hearings.

Meanwhile, the Democrats seemed more focused on countering Republican criticism than doing much investigating. If President Barack Obama is confident of the nominee's pro-choice views despite never asking her about them, well, doggone it, that's good enough for fellow members of his party, too.

One can hardly blame Judge Sotomayor for doing a little sidestepping. To paraphrase her refrain, does the country really want a Supreme Court justice who has drawn conclusions about every issue that might come before her?

But it's difficult to take away much from four days of questioning other than all that ducking and weaving. And, of course, her resolve to follow the law - which raises the question, as opposed to what? Did anyone expect her to say anything else?

Judge Sotomayor's record suggests the veteran appeals court judge is more than qualified for the post. But the hearings did not add - or subtract - much from that record. On some level, that seems unfortunate, if only because it's a missed opportunity for the public to understand her judicial philosophy (other than its judiciousness). She may not be the first Supreme Court nominee to avoid sharing her thoughts with the senators, but thanks to her apparent success, she is certain not to be the last.

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