[JURIST] The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] began confirmation hearings [materials; video] Monday for Supreme Court [official website] Associate Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor [WH profile], with Democratic and Republican senators offered contrasting interpretations of Sotomayor's judicial record and philosophy. In his opening remarks [text], committee chairman Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) cast Sotomayor as having extensive judicial experience and a moderate legal philosophy:
My review of her judicial record leads me to conclude that she is a careful and restrained judge with a deep respect for judicial precedent and for the powers of the other branches of the government, including the law-making role of Congress. That conclusion is supported by a number of independent studies that have been made of her record, and shines through in a comprehensive review of her tough and fair record on criminal cases. She has a deep understanding of the real lives of Americans, the duty of law enforcement to help keep Americans safe, and the responsibilities of all to respect the freedoms that define America.Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) likewise recognized Sotomayor's experience in his own remarks [text], but expressed concern about statements that Sotomayor has made about the importance of her background and international legal approaches to her legal reasoning:
Unfortunately, some have sought to twist her words and her record and to engage in partisan political attacks. Ideological pressure groups have attacked her before the President had even made his selection. They then stepped up their attacks by threatening Republican Senators who do not oppose her.
In truth, we do not have to speculate about what kind of a Justice she will be because we have seen the kind of judge she has been. She is a judge in which all Americans can have confidence. She has been a judge for all Americans and will be a Justice for all Americans.
With a background that creates a prima facie case for confirmation, the primary question I believe Judge Sotomayor must address in this hearing is her understanding of the role of an appellate judge. From what she has said, she appears to believe that her role is not constrained to objectively decide who wins based on the weight of the law, but who, in her opinion, should win. The factors that will influence her decisions apparently include her 'gender and Latina heritage' and foreign legal concepts that get her 'creative juices going.'A vote on Sotomayor's confirmation is scheduled [JURIST report] for August 6.
...What is the traditional basis for judging in America? For 220 years, presidents and the Senate have focused on appointing and confirming judges and justices who are committed to putting aside their biases and prejudices and applying law to fairly and impartially resolve disputes between parties.
Last week, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary [official website] gave Sotomayor a unanimous "well-qualified" rating [letter, PDF; JURIST report]. Sotomayor detailed her prior judgments, financial status, potential conflicts of interest and various other details of her past in a questionnaire she filed with the Judiciary Committee [JURIST report] in June . President Barack Obama has praised [JURIST report] Sotomayor's experience and wisdom, rebuking Republicans who would oppose her confirmation and warning against partisanship in the confirmation process, saying that he hoped Congress would "avoid the political posturing and ideological brinksmanship" that marked past confirmation hearings. Following Obama's May nomination of Sotomayor, Senator Jeff Sessions, the committee's top Republican, said that he did not anticipate a filibuster [JURIST reports] against the nominee.