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Supporters, Opponents of Sotomayor Testify on Supreme Court Nominee

By Dan Robinson
Capitol Hill
17 July 2009

After concluding its hearing on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard from 31 witnesses speaking for and against her judicial record. She would be the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court.

They were well-known public figures, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former FBI Director Louis Freeh, officials of the American Bar Association, U.S. and district attorneys, anti-abortion activists, gun ownership advocates, and two men involved in a case Sotomayor ruled on.

Selected by majority Democrats and minority Republicans, witnesses addressed the same issues on which Sotomayor faced tough questioning from lawmakers.

The most attention focused on Frank Ricci, who was part of a reverse discrimination lawsuit by 20 white and Hispanic firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut.

Sotomayor's ruling in that case as part of a three-judge appeals court panel, found against the firefighters, but was later overturned by the Supreme Court and was a major issue during the nomination hearing.

Ricci and the one Hispanic firefighter, Lieutenant Ben Vargas, had no direct criticism of Sotomayor, but sharply criticized the appeals ruling that upheld a decision by the city to disregard results of a promotion examination:

"We were devastated to see a one paragraph, unpublished order summarily dismissing our case and indeed even the notion that we had presented important legal issues to that court of appeals. I expected the judges who heard my case along the way to make the right decisions, the ones required by the rule of law," he said.

Lawyer Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said the Ricci case contained glaringly abundant evidence of racial politics.

"Had the Sotomayor panel decision prevailed, employees would have license to use racial preferences and quotas on a massive scale," he said.

In her Senate testimony, Judge Sotomayor said she regretted if people got the wrong impression of her judicial philosophy from statements in a number of speeches she delivered beginning in the 1990s, referring to a wise Latina being able to reach a better legal conclusion in a case before a court.

Linda Chavez, chairwoman of the Center for Equal Opportunity, said the comments were deliberate and demonstrated the judge practiced identity politics over the course of her career:

"Judge Sotamayor's offensive words are just a reflection of her much greater body of work as an ethnic activist and judge," she said.

Speaking for Sotomayor, Kim Askew of the American Bar Association explained the organization's unanimous well qualified rating for Sotomayor, saying the judge's past speeches were fully examined and determined not to detract from her qualifications:

"The standing committee was persuaded by the overwhelming responses of lawyers and judges who praised her writings and overall temperament," said Askew.

New York City Mayor Bloomberg had this praise for Sotomayor.

"She is someone with a sharp and agile mind as her distinguished record and her testimony I think made clear, and as a former prosecutor, commercial litigator, district court judge and appellate judge she certainly brings a wealth of unique experience. Second she is an independent jurist who does not fit squarely into an ideological barm" he said.

Democratic Senator Richard Durbin asked New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who oversaw Sotomayor when she worked in his office, how she treated minorities:

DURBIN: Did you notice whether or not she treated minorities any differently?

MORGENTHAU: She was right down the middle. She didn't treat minorities any differently than she treated everybody else, right down the middle, looked at the law, tough but fair."

In other testimony, Charmaine Yoest, representing the organization Americans United for Life said Sotomayor would threaten anti-abortion efforts:

"A vote to confirm Judge Sotomayor to our highest court is a vote for unrestricted abortion on demand, and a move towards elevating abortion as a fundamental right equal to our freedom of religion and freedom of speech,' said Yoest.

The President of the National Fraternal Order of Police, Chuck Canterbury, said she earned the respect and admiration of police officers for being a tough but brilliant and respectful jurist.

Former FBI director Louis Freeh described Sotomayor as someone with enormous judicial integrity, a commitment to the facts and the law, and open minded.

"When she has written, when she has argued, the way she has conducted herself, I think we can very safely say this is going to be an outstanding judge with all of the qualities that you would want," he said.

A judiciary panel vote on Sotomayor could take place next week, unless minority Republicans exercise their right to request more time to consider her qualifications. Full Senate confirmation would clear the way for her to assume her position as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court.



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