Tribune Media Services
Ugly, white, Southern male Republicans on parade. That’s what we saw in the Senate Judiciary Committee: ugly, white, Southern male Republicans on parade, trying to derail Sonia Sotomayor from becoming the next justice of the Supreme Court.
Their attacks on Sotomayor were personal, racist, and sexist. One thing for sure: no white male nominee would ever be treated with the same level of disrespect.
Sotomayor has an impressive, 17-year record on the bench, as trial judge and appellate judge. She brings to the hearings more judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in the last 100 years. On top of all that, she has an inspiring life experience: a heartwarming, only-in-America story.
But we didn’t hear about any of that from Republican senators. They ignored her record. Except for the New Haven firefighters decision, they asked no questions about the 3,000 cases she has ruled on, either alone or together with other judges.
Instead, they pounded over and over again on her so-called “wise Latina” statement — one sentence! — made in a speech at UC Berkeley eight years ago. And, despite her outstanding record to the contrary, they accused her of being a “reverse racist” and incapable of deciding cases fairly and impartially because President Obama, not Judge Sotomayor, once said he was looking for someone with “empathy” on the court.
What was most notable about Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing is that she was not the only one on trial. So was the Republican Party. She passed with flying colors. They failed miserably. One by one, every white Southern Republican proved that the Republican Party hasn’t changed much since the days of Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms. Tom Coburn, Lindsey Graham and Jeff Sessions have just replaced them.
Apparently, Sotomayor was the first Hispanic Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn had encountered since watching “I Love Lucy” as a kid. Echoing Lucille Ball’s husband Ricky Ricardo, Coburn told the judge she had “lots of ‘splainin’ to do” about the Second Amendment.
After citing quotes from several attorneys who argued cases before her that Sotomayor was a “bully” on the bench, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham asked her: “Do you have a temperament problem?” Which was code for: “Are you really a b—-?”
Graham didn’t cite the many attorneys who praised her judicial temperament. And, of course, he’d never have put the same question to Antonin Scalia, who’s famous for asking tough questions. For a man, challenging attorneys is a virtue; for a woman, it’s a “temperament problem.”
But the most outrageous of the Republicans, by far, was ranking Judiciary Republican Jeff Sessions. In the New Haven firefighters case, Sessions castigated Sotomayor for not voting the same way as fellow panelist, Judge Jose Cabranes: “Had you voted with Judge Cabranes, himself of Puerto Rican ancestry, had you voted with him, you could have changed that case.” In other words, Sessions wanted to know: “What’s going on? Aren’t all you brown-skinned people supposed to vote the same way?”
Sessions also attacked Sotomayor for serving as board member of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, perhaps unaware that Judge Cabranes, also “of Puerto Rican ancestry,” had served on the same board.
You must admit; questions about Sotomayor’s alleged racial bias were especially ironic coming from Jeff Sessions. Does he think our memory is so short? This is the same man who, in 1986, was denied a seat on the federal bench, and rightfully so, by the then-Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee because he was “grossly insensitive” on racial issues.
As assistant U.S. attorney and attorney general for Alabama, Sessions had prosecuted three civil rights workers for voter fraud based on only 14 questionable ballots out of 1.7 million cast. He blasted the NAACP as “un-American” and “Communist-inspired,” and dismissed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as a “piece of intrusive legislation.” During his confirmation hearings, a black former assistant U.S. attorney testified that Sessions once told him he used to think members of the KKK were OK until he learned that some of them were “pot smokers.” And Sessions warned his assistant to “be careful what you say to white folks.”
And this direct descendant of Bull O’Connor dares question the racial impartiality of Sonia Sotomayor? He’s lucky lightning didn’t strike him dead on the spot.
Bottom line: Sotomayor will be confirmed as the next Supreme Court justice. Republican senators did not hurt her. But they hurt themselves — badly!