Sonia Sotomayor’s hearings face: A visual record of our national politics

Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s face during her Supreme Court nomination hearings is a YouTube-era national treasure. Turn down the volume as you watch her and imagine the person speaking at her. Imagine what they’re saying. It is serious. It is ridiculous. It is hell. It is a visual record of our national politics. Send in the clowns, the friends, the rogues. Put expensive suits on them all!

Spanking-new Minnesota Democrat Sen. Al Franken plays at everyman:

New York Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer is the defender, making Sotomayor’s case for her and managing unwittingly to be patronizingly insulting as he does so. Just watch her. She’s used to this kind of praise. She receives it in the spirit in which it is offered. But she would make a much better case for herself and she knows it. We know it too.

That is the softball stuff. The newsmaker is Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions. He is a man of the South. He is polite. Which means condescending because he intends to eviscerate the nominee.

Sessions speaks against judicial activism. Judicial activism is not the law; it’s politics, he says. Sotomayor has a wry smile pasted on her face. She wants very much to answer the argument coming at her from Alabama. She cannot. That’s not what these hearings are about.

The Sessions comments are all legit, of course, as long as you accept that Sotomayor is a racist activist judge.

“Judge Sotomayor has said she accepts that her opinions, sympathies and prejudices will affect her rulings…” he says. “My experiences will affect the facts I choose to see,” he quotes the nominee to say. In light of her record, as far as Sessions views it, these statements amount to an admission of guilt. But isn’t it obvious by now? Postmodernism wasn’t about relativism, as they say on talk radio. It was about the great knowledge and liberty and advances made possible by rooting out and acknowledging bias of all varieties. Of course Sotomayor’s opinions, sympathies and prejudices will affect her rulings. It’s a good thing that a Supreme Court nominee can admit to the power of his or her personal biases.

Now how about Sessions? Is the Senator from Alabama likewise ready to admit to biases? Yes or no, they are clearly on display.

There is also this: In 2005 it was conservative Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito who was fielding the questions. This is what he said in response to questions from Republican Sen. Tom Coburn from Oklahoma, who asked Alito for his backstory.

I don’t come from an affluent background or a privileged background. My parents were both quite poor when they were growing up.

And I know about their experiences and I didn’t experience those things. I don’t take credit for anything that they did or anything that they overcame.

But I think that children learn a lot from their parents and they learn from what the parents say. But I think they learn a lot more from what the parents do and from what they take from the stories of their parents’ lives.

And that’s why I went into that in my opening statement. Because when a case comes before me involving, let’s say, someone who is an immigrant — and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases — I can’t help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn’t that long ago when they were in that position.

And so it’s my job to apply the law. It’s not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result.

But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, “You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country.”

When I have cases involving children, I can’t help but think of my own children and think about my children being treated in the way that children may be treated in the case that’s before me.

And that goes down the line. When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account. When I have a case involving someone who’s been subjected to discrimination because of disability, I have to think of people who I’ve known and admire very greatly who’ve had disabilities, and I’ve watched them struggle to overcome the barriers that society puts up often just because it doesn’t think of what it’s doing — the barriers that it puts up to them.

“I will not vote for and no senator should vote for an individual nominated by any president who believes it is acceptable for a judge to allow their personal background, gender, prejudices, or sympathies to sway their decision in favor of or against parties before the Court,” said Sessions yesterday.

Yet, as bloggers occams hatchet and BarbinMD have pointed out, despite Alito’s acceptance of his own clear biases, Sen. Sessions endorsed the Alito nomination without pause.

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