Barely a Scratch

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 15, 2009; 10:14 AM

It wasn't so much what Sonia Sotomayor said, but how she said it.

No matter what the Republicans threw at her, she didn't get rattled.

She spoke slowly and deliberately, as if addressing a class of junior high students. And she sounded so . . . reasonable.

The nominee made a wise decision to back off her wise Latina remark rather than splitting hairs in defending it. She even walked away from Obama's formulation that a judge, in a small percentage of cases, should be influenced by her heart. Beyond that, whether the subject was Roe or Ricci, she did what past Supreme Court nominees have done so effectively: discussed the issues in generalities while refusing to offer her specific views.

In the end, Sotomayor bobbed and weaved rather effectively. The Republicans barely laid a glove on her.

The focus of the hearing was not whether she's qualified for the high court, but whether her views render her out of the mainstream. That's a hard case to make after 17 years of narrowly tailored rulings. Even in the New Haven firefighters case, four members of the Supreme Court -- one short of a majority -- agreed with Sotomayor that the city was justified in throwing out what it regarded as a racially biased exam.

Perhaps the GOP senators didn't want to appear overly harsh on the first Hispanic (and only the third woman) named to the Supremes. So the questioning remained at an intellectual level. With Sotomayor's confirmation virtually assured and their party's base shrinking, the question for some Republicans is whether they should vote for her and save their firepower for another court nominee who might be easier to demonize.

Administration strategists have to be relieved that Sotomayor emerged relatively unscathed. The White House has plenty of legislative fights on its hands. Obama and company would love to get this thing behind them and focus on health care.

LAT: "Skeptical Republicans did no serious damage to President Obama's Supreme Court nominee during the first full day of questioning today, as an unruffled Judge Sonia Sotomayor cautiously, if at times ploddingly, fended off sharp questions."

USA Today: "Judge Sonia Sotomayor insisted Tuesday under pointed questioning that her ethnicity and gender will not influence her decisions if she is confirmed as the Supreme Court's first Hispanic justice."

Washington Times: "Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor retreated from her praise of the 'wise Latina,' endorsed a privacy right to abortion in the Constitution and insisted she was not opposed to gun ownership during a day of questioning on a string of hot-button issues before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday."

NYT: "Judge Sotomayor approached the task as a seasoned advocate. She struck a tone of attentive deference, avoided needless argument, said no more than she needed to prevail, stuck almost entirely to uncontroversial points and avoided antagonizing her questioners.

CONTINUED     1              >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company