The Road to Confirmation: A Game of “Gotcha!”


Sonia_Sotomayor_6_sitting%252C_2009If you’ve been glued to CNN throughout the day then you’ve been witnessing the spectacle known as a “confirmation hearing” that is being held to evaluate Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the position of Supreme Court Justice. The process itself remains fairly consistent with previous confirmation hearings, yet and still something seems remarkably different.

If confirmed, Judge Sotomayor will be the first Latina and the third female justice. So, it goes without saying that the most obvious difference between this confirmation hearing and others is the fact that an intelligent, savvy and experienced Latina woman, in her power red suit, is seated at the middle table holding court (pun intended) with a room full of eager Senators. But what appears an equally obvious difference is the underlying dynamic or collusion on the part of the Senators to try and “catch” Justice Sotomayor doing something wrong. Attempt after attempt is being made to pull the wool off of her in some way or get her to recant her words from past speeches and trip up on some obscure aspect of the law. The mere fact that her comment: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion…” is being extracted from the context in which it was said and used to try and paint her as a robed vigilante is disturbing. Granted, her comment certainly leaves room for someone to justifiably question her intent. However, her record of judging, by and large, does not. The repeated mention of this comment made it clear that the Senators themselves made assumptions about what she meant and were less concerned about her record than they were about their assumptions. It is as if they want her to have no point of view informed by her experience as a Latina woman in the United States or that any point of view she may have as a Latina woman would be one of prejudice as opposed to empathy, unlawful as opposed to lawful. A sociologist might argue that in the absence of clear black and white precedence, it is those salient experiences as racial beings or a particular gender that influence the way we navigate through the gray. Even in a court of law.

By definition, these hearings are held to gather information on whether to approve or reject candidates for high federal office who are nominated by the President. Yet, it feels less like a confirmation of Judge Sotomayor’s capability as a judge and more like a fifth grade game of “gotcha!” What’s interesting about this whole process, whether you are for her or not, is that it illustrates a certain intolerability of our system to allow candidates to truly be authentic with their answers if they want to be confirmed. What do you think? Let us know by posting your comment.

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