Sonia Speaks -- Eventually

Howard Kurtz wonders how the news networks will balance live footage from Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court confirmation hearings with their own analysis.
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 14, 2009; 9:27 AM

If I were running the Senate confirmation hearings, Sonia Sotomayor would have been given the floor first, rather than been forced to cool her heels, broken ankle and all, for five hours.

The esteemed senators still could have made their opening statements, but they -- at least those with a pulse -- would have reacted to what she said. That would have been more interesting, and perhaps even newsworthy.

But no.

Instead, the Judiciary Committee members were so hungry for airtime that they insisted on bloviating before the nominee -- the reason all the reporters and cameras were there -- got to utter a syllable. These are lawmakers with a high tolerance for the sound of their own voices.

The strategy didn't quite work -- the cable networks dipped in and out of the hearings after Pat Leahy and Jeff Sessions were done -- but maybe it was a test of the nominee's powers of endurance.

Of course, any shred of suspense was lifted when Lindsey Graham told Sotomayor early on: "Unless you have a complete meltdown, you are going to get confirmed." That gave the pundits license to talk over most of the senators, especially since there was to be no questioning of Sotomayor yesterday.

By contrast, the appeals court judge was a model of brevity. She thanked her mother, summarized her career, vowed "fidelity to the law," and that was about it. Under eight minutes, no footnotes.

My initial reaction was that it was a missed opportunity. But the administration undoubtedly figured it was better for her to play up her life story, make a couple of philosophical statements and cede the stage. After all, we'll be in for at least a couple of days of Sotomayor pushing back on "wise Latina" and other controversial remarks she's made. The judge, with her reputation for being abrasive on the bench, may not have wanted to come out swinging at the outset.

Bottom line: She did nothing to hurt herself, and with 60 Democratic senators, all she has to do is hold her own.

LAT: "The cases for and against the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court began in earnest today, largely without comment from the nominee.

"On the first day of Sotomayor's hearing, Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee celebrated the life story of the Bronx-born federal judge who is poised to become the high court's first Latino justice. Republicans warned, however, that she could be an 'activist judge' who would 'make the law' and may be biased toward disadvantaged minority groups. Several appeared set to oppose her."

Boston Globe: "Republicans came out swinging, pummeling Sotomayor over her 'troubling'' remarks about race and the law and suggesting that she would let her personal preferences improperly influence her rulings. Democrats shoved back, declaring Sotomayor an 'even-handed'' jurist with impeccable credentials and an only-in-America life story. Both sides raised old grievances, including warrantless wiretapping during the Bush administration's war on terror and Democrats' filibuster of President Bush's judicial nominees."

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