JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN PATRICK LEAHY: Judge Sotomayor, welcome to you and your large and lovely family, including your mother, who I believe saved up to buy your first encyclopedia when she was a hard-working widow. Let me begin the opening statements by noting that you have more federal court judicial experience than any nominee to the United States Supreme Court in nearly a hundred years. And the Constitution — is that a great document or what? And now, the ranking Republican from Alabama.
SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS: Thank you, Chairman. Judge Sotomayor, let’s talk about empathy. I find it shocking that President Obama said that judges should have empathy. I hate empathy. My Republican colleagues hate empathy. In fact, I am proud to say that we’ve reached an all-time low in the “understands the problems of ordinary people” category.
SENATOR RUSS FEINGOLD: Judge Sotomayor, if confirmed, you will join the Supreme Court with more federal judicial experience than any justice in the past 100 years. And, therefore, I will devote my time to complaining about the way the Bush administration pummeled our civil liberties.
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH: Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to point out that we once had a Hispanic nominee for something, and the Democrats filibustered him.
SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: Mr. Chairman, as the newly appointed junior senator from New York, I want to thank you for the opportunity to introduce Judge Sotomayor. Normally I speak really, really fast, but due to the importance of this occasion I am going to go really, really slow. Which will mean that my five minutes will be over before I get anywhere near …
JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: Thank you, committee members. In recent weeks, I have had the pleasure and privilege of meeting with 89 senators. Thank God Senator Inhofe said he didn’t need to talk to me because he’d already made up his mind to vote No.
CHAIRMAN LEAHY: We’re now going to start with the question period. I would like to begin by asking how it feels to have more federal court judicial experience than any nominee to the United States Supreme Court in nearly a hundred years.
JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: Thank you for that interesting question. What my 17-year record on two courts has taught me is the importance of keeping an open mind. And following precedent. And not answering any hypothetical questions about abortion or gun control.
SENATOR SESSIONS: Judge, to get back to that “wise Latina” speech, I want to know if you think judges should allow their prejudices to impact decision-making. For instance, if I were a plaintiff before your court, would you be less inclined to rule in my favor because my middle name is Beauregard?
JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: Senator, I do not permit my sympathies, personal views or prejudices to influence the outcome of my cases. But thank you for sharing.
SENATOR HERB KOHL: I believe I heard somewhere that you would join the Supreme Court with more federal judicial experience than any justice in the past 100 years. Doesn’t your very, very low reversal rate show how exceptionally well you have performed?
JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: Senator, thank you for that softball question. Which reminds me to point out that in 1995 I ended the baseball strike.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Judge, before I read a string of anonymous comments about your temperament problem, I’d like to make you repeat that wise Latina remark again just for the heck of it.
JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: Thank you, Senator, for the opportunity to revisit that matter. I appreciate that the man who once said he’d drown himself if North Carolina went for Obama has a special contribution to make when it comes to the importance of thinking before you speak.
SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER: Before we get to my questions, I would like to tell you several anecdotes about my own interesting history. Did I mention that I used to be chairman of this committee?
SENATOR JOHN CORNYN: I have here a newspaper story quoting a corporate lawyer who worked with you 17 years ago as saying that you would vote for abortion rights. What does he know that we don’t?
JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: That was sometime between my graduating summa cum laude from Princeton and the year I ended the baseball strike. While I can’t answer your question, perhaps it would help if I said that I am bound by precedent and my mind is always open.
SENATOR TOM COBURN: Judge, I’d like to ask you a number of hypothetical questions about abortion and gun control. A lot of Americans are watching these hearings.
JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: Hardly likely at this point, Senator.