Human Rights

The 10 Dumbest Things Republicans Have Said About the Sotomayor Hearings

A list of the most ridiculous questions, jabs and rants by GOP lawmakers and other conservatives.

At her Senate confirmation hearing yesterday, judicial nominee Sonia Sotomayor had to keep a straight face while Republicans heaped shame upon their party with a flood of ridiculous questions, unjustified jabs and pointless rants.

From sexist attacks about Sotomayor's "temperament" to a rigorous interrogation about the definition of nunchucks, GOPers came up with a multitude of embarrassing ways to try to hinder the Supreme Court nominee's confirmation.

The craziness and incompetence on display at the hearings has been more than matched by the absurd smears leveled at Sotomayor in the conservative media. The shining lights of conservatism -- Pat Buchanan, G. Gordan Liddy and Rush Limbaugh -- have outdone themselves with uninformed, offensive rants about the nominee.

AlterNet has compiled the 10 dumbest, most ridiculous statements about Sotomayor to issue from the lips of GOP lawmakers and other conservatives in the past few weeks.

1. Early Tuesday morning, Jeff Sessions seemed surprised that Sotomayor's legal decisions sometimes diverge from those of other judges of Puerto Rican descent. During a series of questions about Ricci v. DeStefano, Sessions scolded:

You voted not to reconsider the prior case. You voted to stay with the decision of the circuit. And in fact, your vote was the key vote. Had you voted with Judge [Jose] Cabranes, himself of Puerto Rican ancestry, had you voted with him, you could've changed that case.

An interesting tack, especially considering that since Sotomayor's nomination, Republicans have desperately clutched at her "wise Latina" comments in order to unconvincingly argue that Sotomayor would let her personal experience dictate her judicial decision making -- thereby continuing the grievous oppression of white men.

Sessions' barely suppressed racism comes into even sharper focus when we consider Steve Benen's point: "Imagine how absurd it would have been if, during [Samuel] Alito's confirmation hearings, [Wisconsin Sen.] Russ Feingold pressed him on why he didn't vote in a certain case with another Italian American judge."

2. A slightly more subtle (but hardly less stupid) question came from Arizona Republican Jon Kyl, who, when he wasn't reveling in the sound of his own voice, asked whether Sotomayor has "always been able to find a legal basis for every decision that (she's) rendered as a judge."

"This is not a trick question," Kyl assured her (as though the poor lady might be intimidated by the sheer force of his intellect). "I can't imagine that the answer would be otherwise than, yes, you've always found some legal basis for ruling one way or the other, some precedent, some reading of a statute, the Constitution or whatever it might be."

But, just to make sure: "You haven't ever had to throw up your arms and said, 'I can't find any legal basis for this opinion, so I'm going to base it on some other factor'? "

Yes, Sen. Kyl, when in doubt, she consults the zodiac. ("Well, the moon is in Cancer, so...") Seriously, people. She's a judge, not an astrologist.

3. After solemnly reminding Sotomayor that the New Haven, Conn., firefighters case is just one of many "cases where people are discriminated against," Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch took the opportunity to indulge in a little guilt by association -- while denying he was indulging in guilt by association.

"Let me just make one last point here," Hatch said. "You have nothing to do with this, I know. But there's a rumor that People for the American Way has -- that this organization has been smearing Frank Ricci, who is only one of 20 plaintiffs in this case, because he may be willing to be a witness ... in these proceedings.

"I hope that's not true. And I know you have nothing to do with it, so don't -- don't think I'm trying to make a point against you. I'm not. I'm making a point that that's the type of stuff that doesn't belong in Supreme Court nomination hearings. And I know you would agree with me on that."

Right. I mean, no offense, Sonia, Sen. Hatch is totally not trying to hold that against you. Who brought up that nasty business about People for the American Way, anyhow? Offensive! I'm glad you agree.

4. Pat Buchanan, who cut his political teeth writing speeches for Richard Nixon, has a long history of embracing the vision of a diverse America. As Think Progress notes, he has: argued that slavery was good for African Americans; suggested Latinos don't want to assimilate; and openly wished that America was a country where everyone -- or almost everyone -- was white (someone's got to clean the toilets).

So it should come as little surprise that Buchanan concluded, without a shred of evidence, that because all of the finalists on Obama's short list were women, Sotomayor got to where she is not by dint of hard work but as a result of affirmative action, the classic right-wing bugaboo.

The claim was so egregious that even the usually docile Nora O'Donnell called him on it, saying, "you're suggesting it's an absolute outrage if the final four are women. If got down to final four, and they were all white men, would that bother you in the least?"

Watch it:

5. It's possible that during his years behind bars, convicted felon and right-wing squawker G. Gordon Liddy grew unaccustomed to having women around; and we can understand fearing the unfamiliar. But Liddy has been out since President Jimmy Carter commuted his sentence in 1977, so it's shocking that he would actually make this suggestion publicly (via the Washington Independent):

Let's hope that the key conferences aren't when she's menstruating or something, or just before she's going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then.

Daphne Eviatar asked: "Maybe it's OK if female Supreme Court justices are postmenopausal? Or have no feelings or sentiments at all?"

6. Senator Lindsey Graham accused Sotomayor of terrorizing lawyers. Sotomayor calmly replied that she asks tough questions, as judges are wont to do.

Graham: OK. Now, let's talk about you. I like you, by the way, for whatever that matters. Since I may vote for you, that ought to matter to you. One thing that stood out about your record is that when you look at the almanac of the federal judiciary, lawyers anonymously rate judges in terms of temperament. And here's what they said about you: "She's a terror on the bench. She's temperamental, excitable, she seems angry. She's overall aggressive, not very judicial. She does not have a very good temperament. She abuses lawyers. She really lacks judicial temperament. She believes in an out -- she behaves in an out-of-control manner. She makes inappropriate outbursts. She's nasty to lawyers. She will attack lawyers for making an argument she does not like. She can be a bit of a bully." When you look at the evaluation of the judges on the Second Circuit, you stand out like a sore thumb in terms of your temperament. What is your answer to these criticisms?

Sotomayor: I do ask tough questions at oral arguments.

Graham: Are you the only one that asks tough questions in oral arguments?

Sotomayor: No, sir. No, not at all. I can only explain what I'm doing, which is when I ask lawyers tough questions, it's to give them an opportunity to explain their positions on both sides and to persuade me that they're right. I do know that, in the Second Circuit, because we only give litigants 10 minutes of oral argument each, that the processes in the Second Circuit are different than in most other circuits across the country. And that some lawyers do find that our court, which is not just me, but our court generally, is described as a hoc bench, it's a term that lawyers use. It means that they're peppered with questions.

Lots of lawyers who are unfamiliar with the process in the Second Circuit find that tough bench difficult and challenging.

Graham: If I may interject, judge, they find you difficult and challenging more than your colleagues. And the only reason I mention this is that it stands out. When you -- there are many positive things about you, and these hearings are designed to talk about the good and the bad, and I never liked appearing before a judge that I thought was a bully. It's hard enough being a lawyer, having your client there to begin with without the judge just beating you up for no good reason. Do you think you have a temperament problem?

Sotomayor: No, sir. I can only talk about what I know about my relationship with the judges of my court and with the lawyers who appear regularly from our circuit. And I believe that my reputation is stuck as such that I ask the hard questions, but I do it evenly for both sides.

Graham: And in fairness to you, there are plenty of statements in the record in support of you as a person, that do not go down this line.

But I will just suggest to you, for what it's worth, judge, as you go forward here, that these statements about you are striking. They're not about your colleagues. The 10-minute rule applies to everybody and that obviously you've accomplished a lot in your life, but maybe these hearings are time for self-reflection. This is pretty tough stuff that you don't see from -- about other judges on the Second Circuit.

7. The Committee for Justice* -- a right-wing group opposed to Sotomayor's confirmation -- is airing ads claiming that the Yale graduate led a terrorist organization. According to Think Progress:

The claim that Sotomayor led a terrorist organization apparently refers to her service on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, a mainstream civil rights organization. It seems that, in the right-wing mind, a group that protects Latinos from race discrimination is exactly the same as al-Qaida.

8. In what was perhaps one of the odder moments of the hearings, Hatch forced the nominee to expound on the dangers of nunchucks, a martial arts weapon. The point, of course, was the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms and how it played out in the 2009 case Maloney v. Cuomo. But all-in-all, a strange topic for a Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

Watch it:

9. Self-professed leader of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, had the gall to argue Monday that Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comment was "much worse" than former Virginia Sen. George Allen's macaca comment.

From Media Matters for America:

10. Then there is Glenn Beck's contribution to the confirmation process. On Monday, Beck decried the questioning from Senate Democrats during the first day of Sotomayor's confirmation hearings.

"America, I want you to watch this," he ordered. "As as our country burns to the ground ... this is the questioning -- and get ready, because it's a hard line of questioning -- here's what happened; this is what our senators were doing today."

Beck then showed a short montage of the senators praising Sotomayor, calling her "supremely well-qualified," "the most experienced nominee to the Supreme Court in 100 years" and "very special woman."

There was only one problem: As Media Matters pointed Monday night, "Unfortunately for Beck, there were no questions today. The first day of the hearings is when senators and the nominee make opening statements."

"This is like a cartoon show!" the clueless Beck said when the clip was over. (And let's face it, it takes one to know one). "The world is upside down."

That's what happens when you live outside the fact-based universe, Glenn.

It appears that the Republicans and other conservatives that have turned Sotomayor's nomination into a circus could learn a thing or two about reality.

*Correction: The Committee for Justice was misidentified as the Alliance for Justice. AlterNet regrets the error.

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