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Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s opening appearances before the Senate Judiciary Committee could well go down as a textbook case of how a Supreme Court nominee should handle herself.
She was low-key, refusing to let herself get rattled. She kept her answers brief and to the point; the luxury of loquacity belongs solely to the senators. She did not argue, a real no-no. She took notes, almost as if she were in class. And, unlike the spectators and even some of the senators, she never let her attention wander during the marathon questioning — or, worse, appeared bored.
And Sotomayor dealt at the outset with her potentially most serious obstacle, her observation that a "wise Latina woman" might reach a better conclusion than a white male judge. It was an ill-considered remark, but it is somewhat reassuring that the "wise Latina" seems to be the worst the opposition researchers could come up with.
Her response to the committee: "I want to state upfront, unequivocally and without doubt, I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging."
Sotomayor came across as far from the firebrand judicial activist that opponents depicted her, and to a layperson, it seems that her inclination as a judge is to decide cases on fairly narrow grounds.
That’s how she addressed her second obstacle, the New Haven firefighters case. She said her brief appeals-court ruling was based on Supreme Court precedent and that of another circuit court, but the current Supreme Court elected, 5 to 4, to overturn her based on a different standard. Had that standard been in effect when the firefighters case reached her court, she "absolutely" would have ruled differently.
Because of the high stakes, hearings on Supreme Court nominees are becoming scripted, bloodless affairs, with both the nominee and interrogators briefed well past the point of any spontaneity. Those were the rules of the game as Sotomayor encountered them, and so far she has played it well, deftly navigating the minefields of abortion and the Second Amendment.
Barring a late-breaking bombshell or a "meltdown," as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., put it, Sotomayor will be confirmed, perhaps even with a few Republican votes. And she should be.