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Our take on the Sotomayor hearings

Posted By Kevin R. Johnson, Jul 15, 2009

King Hall faculty are weighing-in on Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings in print, on-air, and on the web. Associate Dean Vikram Amar is blogging about each day’s developments on Professor Emeritus Cruz Reynoso could be heard this morning on National Public Radio. And I am participating in an online roundtable discussion on, was quoted in the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión, and did an interview for a radio program in Jamaica!

In fact, La Opinión has asked me to contribute a piece every day of the hearings, to appear in print and online. The first entry, titled “Humana, latina y sabia” (Human, Latina, and Wise) can be found at

Here’s the translation in English:

My colleague Professor Vik Amar has written of what is, and is not, fair game in the confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. See I would be the first to admit that there is plenty of room for legitimate questioning of Judge Sonia Sotomayor about her philosophy of judging and her lengthy record as a judge, as well as her judicial temperament.

Unfortunately, in both their opening statements, as well as the questioning, the Senators of the Judiciary Committee revealed more about themselves, their judicial philosophies, and their temperament than anything about Judge Sotomayor. We heard Senators complain repeatedly about the “wise Latina” comment in a speech to students at UC Berkeley and, for much of the second day, ask pointed questions about Supreme Court decisions that they do not like. Republicans generally said what one would expect Republicans to say; Democrats were no different.

Judge Sotomayor clearly appeared to be the most human and wise person (yes, perhaps she is the “wise Latina”) of all during the confirmation hearings. Like many Latinos often do on important occasions, she began by thanking her teary-eyed mother for the sacrifices she made for her children. Judge Sotomayor told of her long journey from a South Bronx housing project to the rarified air of Princeton and then Yale. She expressed pride at mentoring “many godchildren,” a nice tip of the hat to an extremely important Catholic tradition that is especially sacrosanct among Latinos (and in effect acknowledging to many Latinos that, “yes, I am one of you”). Linking her humanity to her professional life, Judge Sotomayor admitted that she has “witnessed the human consequences of [her] decisions.”

While her humanity came through the first two days of the hearings, Judge Sotomayor’s performance also took the winds out of the sails of the detractors alleging that she is some kind of rogue "judicial activist." She emphasized that her philosophy "is simple: fidelity to the law. The task of a judge is not to make the law – it is to apply the law." That was her story and she stuck to it. Given her many years of experience on the bench exemplifying that philosophy, Judge Sotomayor appears to be precisely the type of Justice that all Americans should want on the U.S. Supreme Court.