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Commentary: Sotomayor would not take the GOP bait

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Commentary: Sotomayor would not take the GOP bait
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

SAN DIEGO--What's up with Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and their grilling of Sonia Sotomayor? I can only speak for myself. But the last time I was this obsessed with a "wise Latina," I married her.

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It's fine to ask a nominee about a provocative statement -- i.e. Sotomayor's "rhetorical flourish that fell flat," and why she thought that a wise Latina might reach a better conclusion than a white male. But the question was asked and answered again and again. Once is appropriate. Twice is thorough. But more than a dozen times, by every Republican on the committee, is out of control.

Unless you understand what's really going on. By the end of Sotomayor's first day of questioning, it was obvious what was behind her churlish treatment by some Republicans -- they wanted to take her down a peg.

And, for the record, it wasn't keeping in the spirit of what Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina had insisted earlier was at the root of concerns over Sotomayor. In his opening statement, Graham -- who, ironically, spent the rest of the hearing urging Sotomayor to be colorblind -- made a race-conscious reference to Miguel Estrada, President George W. Bush's derailed nominee for the federal appeals court, as someone Republicans would have nominated if they had the prerogative. This, Graham said, proved that while "the Hispanic element of this hearing's important," Republican resistance was "mostly about liberal and conservative politics more than it is anything else."

Don't believe it. This wasn't about distinguishing between liberals and conservatives. And, it was never about simply determining if the nominee understands the Constitution and the role of the judiciary well enough to sit on the Supreme Court. The answer to that was clear a few hours into the main event. On the matchup between the GOP senators and the nominee, a reader noted: "The best analogy I can think of is like bringing a knife to a gunfight, with Judge Sotomayor holding the guns."

Graham and his colleagues didn't succeed in humbling the nominee. Sotomayor acknowledged that her wording about a wise Latina was "bad," and on Thursday told Graham that she regretted that "I have offended some people." But she didn't apologize, as Graham had earlier said he hoped she would. Nor should she.

In the eyes of her tormentors, Sotomayor's "wise Latina" remark was evidence that the judge was guilty of the unpardonable sin that independent-minded minorities are often accused of: arrogance.

Sotomayor is a federal appeals court judge who has been on the bench for nearly 17 years following a stint in private practice and at the Manhattan district attorney's office, and all this after graduating from Yale Law School. I'd say "this law thing" is working out pretty well for her.

For his part, Graham has almost no experience as a judge. The graduate of the University of South Carolina Law School has served as an Air Force staff judge advocate.

Later, in an even more patronizing tone, Graham cited anonymous statements from lawyers in the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary who criticized Sotomayor for being a bully. Then, he asked her if she thought she had a "temperament problem." Finally, he advised the judge: "maybe these hearings are time for self-reflection."

One guess as to who really needs self-reflection.

For whatever reason, Graham tried to put Sotomayor in her place. He failed. Now he should do something constructive and use his vote to help put her on the Supreme Court.

Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is rnavarrette@wctrib.com.

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