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Sotomayor: Fidelity To Law

Sotomayor: I’ll Apply, Not Make, Law

While some Senate Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee said they were worried that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor would rule from a liberal, relativistic judicial philosophy in line with the “empathy” standard they ascribe to President Obama, Sotomayor said Monday that she had a single standard, the law.

In her opening statement in her nomination hearing before the committee, Sotomayor said that her philosophy was simple: “Fidelity to the law.”

She told the senators that a judge’s task was “not to make law–it is to apply the law.”

She said her judicial record backed up that philosophy, saying it showed she had been “hewing faithfully” to precedents established by the Supreme Court and her own Circuit Court.”

Raising doubts about that philosophy had been Sotomayor’s statement at a legal conference that courts of appeal are “where policy is made,” though a full hearing of that quote illustrates she was demonstrating the difference between nonprecedential federal district court decisions and appeals court decisions that do establish the precedent for others to follow.

Former SNL writer/performer Al Franken, not yet a week installed as the newest Senator from Minnesota, spoke last. He said he had a lot to learn from his colleagues. He also said he had watched some portion of all the preceding televised Supreme Court nomination hearings. Franken was interrupted by a protestor, the second of the day.

He pointed out this was the first hearing without Ted Kennedy (D-MA). He said the televised hearings had taught us a lot about the constitution.

Addressing his statement to Sotomayor, he said she was not just an outstanding jurist but an exceptional individual.

This is my fifth day in office, he said, which may mean he is the most junior. But it also means he most recently took the oath of office, to support and defend the constitution. “I take this oath very seriously… I may not be a lawyer,” but neither are most Americans, he said.

He said he hoped to raise issues of concern to Minnesota and the nation and that would provide insight into how the court works.

He said he had been reading and thinking about the rights of Americans of citizens and voters faced challenges on two separate months.

He said Congress was made the first branch of government for a reason. He said he was wary of judicial

activism, and favored restraint. But he also said voting rights, campaign finance and other decisions indicated appropriate deference had not been shows, and there were “ominous signs” of judicial activism.

Second, he said, he also said he was concerned about new barriers to individual rights, to free and fair competition for business, to protecting the free flow of information on the Internet (network neutrality), which he later called “open access to the Internet.”

The other Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), had already pointed out that Sotomayor was only the third woman to be nominated, and was being vetted by a panel with only two women on it. Klobuchar said that the law was not just a dusty book in the basement to prosecutors, pointing out that both she and Sotomayor are former prosecutors.

She said she would focus on that prosecutorial career, and wants to know how she will balance the constitution with the real-world implications of those decision, a way to suggest that bringing life experience to the job and its decisions is not a black mark.

She said she was looking for good judgment, but also the knowledge that those decisions affect real people.

Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) said that the public vetting Sotomayor’s record has gotten, including in the blogosphere, was “extremely valuable to the Senate and the public.” He called her an impressive nominee whose record appeared to reveal no biases.

A Supreme Court resistant to involvement in markets could be problematic, said Kaufman, suggesting the current court was too business-friendly. He said he would focus on her experience with business cases both in private practice and as a judge.

Former Republican Arlen Specter, also former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he wanted the court to start hearing more cases. He pointed out that the court decided 451 case 100 years ago, but only issued 67 signed opinions a century later.

Specter said he would have questions on televising the court. Her predecessor, Justice Souter, said that cameras would enter the court by rolling over his dead body. Specter, who favors cameras in the court, pointed out that if she were confirmed “they won’t have to roll over his dead body.”