Patiently, Sotomayor Schools GOP Senators
If there's one thing that this week's Senate confirmation hearings made clear, it's that Judge Sotomayor is not just a great mind, but a patient and generous teacher. Surrounded by senators who seemed primarily concerned with topping each other in condescension, Sotomayor responded with respect, nuance and a solid grounding in the law - to the point where the hearings sometimes felt like a high school civics class, with Sotomayor explaining the fundamentals of our legal system. The biggest surprises of the hearings so far haven't come from Sotomayor herself, but from the ignorance and arrogance shown by some members of the GOP. And the biggest pay-off won't just be from Sotomayor's confirmation - although that will certainly happen - but from the GOP's torching of any goodwill it hasn't already set aflame with women and racial minorities.
In the hearings, Sotomayor faced down Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama senator with a notoriously racially troubled past. Sessions sat in Sotomayor's seat when Ronald Regan nominated him for a federal judgeship. The Senate Judiciary Committee killed his nomination after it came to light that he joked that he used to think the Ku Klux Klan wasn't so bad until he found out some of them smoked marijuana, and he believed the NAACP and the ACLU to be "un-American and "Communist-inspired" - his biggest grievance with the groups being that they "forced" civil rights down our collective throats. Watching Sotomayor respond to Sessions' sneering questions with insightful and polite answers was simultaneously infuriating and inspiring - I'm not sure I could have been nearly as composed, but she certainly put to rest any concerns about her "temperament."
Or at least, she put those concerns to rest in the minds of reasonable people. Sen. Lindsey Graham wasn't satisfied, and had the nerve to read off several anonymous and unattributed statements about Sotomayor's "temperament problem." His point was that Sotomayor is too mean and too harsh in her questioning to be a good judge - a concern rarely raised with aggressive male judges like Antonin Scalia. But instead of making her look unreasonable or "temperamental" (what is she, a racehorse?), he succeeded only in making himself look like a bully and a fool, targeting her personality instead of her record. Like many others in the GOP, he threw in some references to her "Wise Latina" comment for good measure - after all, someone in the studio audience may not be aware that she's not white.