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Sotomayor's questioning now under scrutiny
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Sotomayor's questioning now under scrutiny

Despite some questions suggesting the contrary, senators at the judicial committee questioning of Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, undertook extensive study to prepare for the three day inquisition.

DESPITE some questions suggesting the contrary, senators at the judicial committee questioning of Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, undertook extensive study to prepare for the three day inquisition.

The study was the result of almost one in three senators on the committee having no legal qualifications, reports The National Law Journal.

A medical doctor, a satirist and the owner of the National Basketball Association's Milwaukee Bucks, were just some of the professions represented by the senators, however before asking questions of President Barack Obama’s nominee, Sotomayor, those senators made sure they were up to speed by reading and spending a lot of time with lawyers they have on staff.

"Where we come up short is the language of lawyers," said Senator Chuck Grassley, a farmer by profession who's been in Congress since 1975.

Members on the committee also included a medical doctor, a satirist and the owner of the National Basketball Association's Milwaukee Bucks.

"That's our shortcoming. So, I think that what we have to do is spend more time with our legislative assistants, to ask more questions -probably very simple questions - but we've got to understand the language of lawyers, and we've got to study the cases to a greater extent maybe than the average lawyer."

Grassley said he read summaries, prepared by staff, of some of Sotomayor's cases from her 17 years as a district and appellate judge, as well as legal commentary that he came across in newspapers.

In all, six of the committee's 19 members were nonlawyers, including two of its senior members, Grassley and Senator Herb Kohl. That ratio of almost one in three was significantly higher than it's been in other recent confirmation battles. 

About one in five members did not have a law degree during the hearings for other chief justices such as Justice John Roberts Jr., Justice Samuel Alito Jr., Justice Clarence Thomas and failed nominee Robert Bork.

Kohl, the Bucks owner and a retail magnate, prepared for Sotomayor's hearing in part by convening a group of Wisconsin legal experts at Marquette University Law School. Senator Al Franken said in his opening statement that he's been "consulting with some of Minnesota's top legal minds" after spending the past three decades as an author, radio personality, and writer and performer for Saturday Night Live.

Despite the rigorous preparations for the questioning, Republicans joined Democrats in praising Sotomayor’s demeanor and thoughtfulness, even as some expressed frustration that she had not fully answered their questions.

"You've been great during this process," Senator Orrin Hatch told the 55-year-old judge. While committee chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy, praised her "intelligence, grace and patience".

Whether or not the cordial ending of three days of grilling will translate into more than a handful of Republican votes for Sotomayor is unclear, however, confirmation seems assured, as Republicans pledged not to dispute her nomination. 

A committee vote is likely to come before the end of July, and if followed soon by a vote of the full Senate, Sotomayor could easily join the Court before September 9.

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