UPDATE 2:35pm CT: Senator John Kyl got into the very issue I expound on below, and things became heated quickly. He called her on her disingenuous characterizations of her speeches, Patrick Leahy got his panties in a wad, and gavelled an unexpected break in the hearing.

As I expected, today’s continuing Senate confirmation hearings on Sonia Sotomayor’s appointment to the Supreme Court saw Democrats pitching softball questions to the judge about some of her controversial statements and rulings. Their strategy is to get the dirty laundry aired out in a way where Sotomayor has the opportunity to “clarify” herself before Republicans (hopefully) hammer her on the issues.

Senator Patrick Leahy began the kid-glove treatment this morning by revising her “wise latina” statements from what Sotomayor actually said numerous times. He softened them up, and tried to slide through his version: that a “wise latina would make a judgment that was as good as a white male’s.” Sonia promptly swung for the fences with this, quite disingenuous reply:

I want to state up front, unequivocally and without doubt, I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging. I do believe that every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge regardless of their background or life experiences.

What — the words that I use, I used agreeing with the sentiment that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was attempting to convey. I understood that sentiment to be what I just spoke about, which is that both men and women were equally capable of being wise and fair judges.

That has to be what she meant, because judges disagree about legal outcomes all of the time — or I shouldn’t say all of the time, at least in close cases they do. Justices on the Supreme Court come to different conclusions. It can’t mean that one of them is unwise, despite the fact that some people think that.

So her literal words couldn’t have meant what they said. She had to have meant that she was talking about the equal value of the capacity to be fair and impartial.

O’Connor’s famous statement was that “a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases.” Of COURSE, O’Connor meant that men and women shouldn’t reach different conclusions because of their genders. But Sotomayor created a diversion by focusing on O’Connor’s statement and it’s meaning, and her subsequent answer to the committee was a falsehood. In the controversial “wise latina” statement(s) Sonia made, she was disagreeing with O’Connor. A snip from her 2001 speech:

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O’Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

Let’s hope this blatant dishonesty doesn’t escape the Judicial Committee. I was screaming at the television yesterday when Lindsay Graham told Sotomayor that “barring a meltdown, you’re going to get confirmed.” Senators: don’t roll over so easily.

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