Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, kicked off the hearings for President Obama's nominee, Sonia Sotomayor to be Associate Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, with a very strong opening statement.
Sessions stated that repeated statements by 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sotomayor exhibiting empathy for certain parties before the court evidences a potential problem with this nomination. Sotomayor has said that "experiences will affect the facts I choose to see as a judge" and made other statements that exhibit an empathy and prejudice for certain parties. Sessions attacked this empathy standard as "more akin to politics" and clearly stated that "politics has no place in the courtroom." Sessions statement laid out clear lines and definitions on an appropriate, and inappropriate, judicial philosophy for judges.
Sessions described the results of the "empathy standard" as follows:
Like the American people, I have watched this for a number of years, and fear this "empathy standard" is another step down the road to liberal activist, results-oriented, and relativistic world where: Laws lose their fixed meaning; Unelected Judges set policy; Americans are seen as members of separate groups rather than simply Americans; and, Where the constitutional limits on government power are ignored when politicians want to buy out private companies.
If Sotomayor can't argue that she will apply the law objectively, then she will have a difficult time securing significant numbers of Republican senators to support her nomination. This hearing will be an important teaching moment in history where conservative strict constructionist philosophy is explained to the American people in easy to undersand terms. Conservatives want to have judges who act as a neutral umpire. Conservatives like judges who are bound by the words of the Constitution and does not read into the Constitution rights that do not exist. Furthermore, a strict constructionist conservative philosophy ignores personal biases and empathy.
In the strongest opening statement in a nominations hearing in years, Senator Sessions declared:
I will not vote for - no senator should vote for - an individual nominated by any President who is not fully committed to fairness and impartiality towards every person who appears before them.
This is a line in the sand and if Sotomayor can't pledge "fairness and impartiality" then she will have a difficult time getting confirmed. This pledge implies that Senator Sessions believes that Sotomayor may not be committed to fairness and impartiality. I would expect that Sotomayor and her Democrat defenders on the Committee, will spend a significant time during the questioning of the nominee that Sotomayor will be fair and impartial.
Sessions put forth a second line in the sand for Sotomayor:
I will not vote for - no senator should vote for - an individual nominated by any President who believes it is acceptable for a judge to allow their own personal backgroud, gender, prejudices, or sympathies to sway their decision in favor of, or against, parties before the court. In my view, such a philisophy is disqualifying.
Clearly, Republicans on the committee will not assail the qualifications of Sotomayor to be on the Court. Sotomayor has a steller legal education and significant legal experience, including over 10 years on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. The question is whether Sotomayor is so extreme in her views that she has disqualifed herself from serving on the Supreme Court. In other words, Sotomayor may have the qualifications throught her education and experience to serve on the Court, yet may have evidenced a philosophy that ignores the words of the Constitution and the law when Sotomayor's prejudices and empathy for certain parties before the court are strong.
This hearing will be contentious and Session's early words have set the table for a debate on judicial philosophy and the proper role of judges on the Courts.