Friday, August 14, 2009

Reflections On Justice Sotomayor’s Confirmation Process

About two weeks after the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearing finished, I began writing about it and was immediately kidded: It's an obsolete topic, no one cares any more, people have moved on.

Now, months later, Justice Sotomayor sits on the bench listening to arguments - so why visit what went on last summer? Because it needs to be pointed out that her questioning exemplified a favorite Republican tactic in dealing with people who have a more progressive, rational world outlook.

Since the same tactic is being used today to combat medical-insurance reform efforts, I believe examining Republican and media behavior during the Sotomayor confirmation hearing is relevant today.

The hearing highlighted the all-too-familiar right-wing "politics by evasion and attack," which take small tidbits of truth and morph them into deceptive, emotionally supercharged PR bludgeons. Then, the proponents justify their evasive and hostile tactics by reaching back to self-serving faith-based dogma. Unfortunately, religious absolutism, absolutely distorts all attempts at examining the real challenges facing our future.

When President Obama nominated Judge Sotomayor for the US Supreme Court she sounded like a real ‘Mensch’ to me. I remember going on the web and doing some biographical searches on her. They reinforced my original ‘feel good.’ After that I scanned some of the usual right wing suspects to hear their take. Then, I listened to Sotomayor speeches that were available on YouTube.

I noticed the Republicans had no dirt on this lady. Thus, was surprised by the viciousness of their attacks and distortions. Attacks manipulating a very few quotes from speeches that to rational thinkers should have been starting points for a genuine discussion.

Ironically, the most vocal “anti-Sotomayor” Senators supported nominee Roberts who had a mere two years of judicial experience, having previously built his career on steam-rolling his extremely partisan goals. (something reflected in his demonstrably corporate loving approach to running the high court) Yet, today, a nominee with more court room experience than any nominee in a century and no political involvement, someone with overwhelming positive support from her knowledgeable peers ~ is told she’s not worthy because she is willing to recognize and discuss complex aspects of being a person? Whatever happened to ‘fair-play’?

When the Judiciary Committee Hearings began, the News reporting was dismal. Typical of the coverage was WNYC’s ‘On The Media’ which said: “As for the nominee, Slate Senior Editor Dhalia Lithwick says the hearings served as an elaborate calculus of 19 different ways to answer a question at length, without saying anything.
“ 'You can say the question is too broad so you can't answer it, you can say the question is too specific, so you can't answer it. You can say that was so far in the past I can't talk about it, or it’s so far in the future I can't talk about it, and so on. You know, there’s this whole formulation of how you don't answer questions, so why do we spend four days watching this with bated breath is actually the better question.”

Such media reporting inspired me to look up Cspan and listen to some of the Hearing for myself. It was a revelation! Not only did Judge Sotomayor do way less evasion than reporters and Republican Senators were peddling, but her answers were actually interesting. Interesting enough that over a couple weeks I managed to listened to the entire Judiciary Committee Hearing. I also rediscovered what a fantastic resource Cspan is, check it out on the Web. I myself gained a whole new level of appreciation for what a judge is, how the job & process works, and even why circumspection is a necessity in a quality judge. I also learned about why some cases proceed following channels created by the rule of law, even though we on the outside may disagree with that direction.

As for Lithwick’s question, may I suggest reporters should have been “listening” instead of only half watching with distracted minds. This hearing didn’t, and wasn’t supposed to, contain fireworks - instead it was a slow careful examination of the questions asked then answered by an exceptional jurist who wasn’t going to be bullied into dramatizing for the camera.

Mr. Lithwick, a worthier question would have been: Why did Senators Sessions, Grassley, Kyl and Hatch act as though they never heard a single Sotomayor answer? Why did they read through their questions like some sort of preordained scripture, never pausing to consider her words?

These Senators acted more like Officials Brooking No Decent, than men on a fact finding mission. Why does our media allow such Senatorial misbehavior to go unchallenged?

Another question should have been: Why couldn’t Republican Senator’s come up with more meaningful questions? Why where we subjected to cynical simplistic ideological monologues, which were more reminiscent of old plow-horses endlessly plodding the same field with no conception of anything beyond their own furrow. (OK, there where some Republican exceptions, but not near enough.)

Another question for the media's Litwicks: Why couldn’t any reporter put Judge Sotomayor’s reticence into perspective? The right wing and reporters act as though they expected Sotomayor to expound like some crony at a bar. But, she is a long standing honorable intelligent Judge. Weighing every word is second nature to her and has nothing to do with evasion. We expect nothing less from our judges. Tragically, our politically motivated Republicans would rather label this fine jurist an “enemy” and trash her ~ than allow her to share some refreshing insights.

More and more, Republicans are coming across as though they believe only they have “worthy” answers and anyone who thinks differently must be demonized no matter how many lies need to be fabricated to do so.

Why? By what right or justification? Haven’t Republican senators and media cheerleaders been culpable enough in heinous, astronomically costly mistakes of judgment these past few years that have harmed our country and future? What gives Senator Sessions,, the gaul to act so condescendingly - if not destructively?

For me, watching Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor traverse the political mine-field during those months of her nomination these past months has put new substance behind the old adage: “Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty!” Kids, it has never been more accurate!

I say this because if the level of questioning and thinking by Senators Sessions, Kyl, Grassley, Hatch, along with all too many others, including reporters, is any indication of how these people will meet our oncoming challenges, boy oh boy are you younger generations in trouble.