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Sen. Cardin Questions Witnesses at Judge Sotomayor's Confirmation Hearings

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Thursday, July 16, 2009; 4:48 PM

CARDIN: Let me first recognize our chairman, Chairman Leahy, who I understand wants to reserve his place.

LEAHY: Thank you, Senator Cardin. I wanted to thank you and the other senators who have filled in on this prior to -- I was here throughout the -- throughout all the testimony by Judge Sotomayor, and the questions asked by both Republicans and Democrats are reserved by time.

I do welcome all the witnesses, who are both for and against the nominee. They -- Senator Sessions and I joined together to make sure that everybody was invited, everybody was given a chance to testify. And if any of you wish to add to your testimony, the record will be open for -- for 24 hours for you to do that.

Thank you very much.

CARDIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mayor Bloomberg, let me start with you, if I might, in my questioning. There's been a lot of discussion about the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, including during this panel discussion. And Judge Sotomayor served on the board and had nothing to do with the selection of individual cases from the point of view of its content, but served in a voluntary capacity with that board.

CARDIN: And first I'm going to quote from you, and then give you a chance perhaps to expand upon it, where you have been quoted as saying, "Only in Washington could someone's many years of volunteer service to a highly regarded nonprofit organization that has done so much good for so many, be twisted into a negative, and that group has made countless important contributions to New York City."

I just want to give you a chance to respond to Judge Sotomayor's service on the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.

(UNKNOWN): Well, this is an organization that has defended people who don't have the wherewithal to get private counsel or don't have traditions of understanding the law, and it happens to focus on people mainly who come from Puerto Rico and have language problems, in addition to a lack of perhaps understanding of how our court system works.

And it provides the kind of representation that we all, I think, believe that everybody that appears before a judge and before the law deserves. They raise money privately to pay lawyers to defend. I don't agree with some of their positions and I agree with other ones. But having more of these organizations is a lot better than having less. At least people do have the option of getting good representation.

CARDIN: Thank you.

Mr. Henderson, during the hearing of Judge Sotomayor, we had a chance to talk a little bit about the voting rights and the recent case before the Supreme Court, and the fact that one justice questioned the constitutionality, in fact pretty well determined the constitutionality of the -- of the Voting Rights Renewal Act, saying it was no longer relevant.

Judge Sotomayor, during her testimony, talked about deference to Congress, the fact that it was passed by a 93 to 0 vote in the United States Senate and by a lopsided vote in the House of Representatives, the 25-year extension. I just want to get your comments as to whether the Voting Rights Act is relevant today and your confidence level of Judge Sotomayor as it relates to advancing civil rights for the people of our nation.

HENDERSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your question.

Let me back up for just a minute and say that these hearings have really been a testament to the wisdom of the founding fathers in setting up a three-part system of government, with the president making a nomination for an associate justice on the Supreme Court, and the Senate Judiciary Committee providing its advice and consent.

Under our system of government, the Senate and the House have a particular responsibility to delve deeply into the constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly around the right to vote. Voting really is the language of democracy. If you can't vote, you don't count. And the truth is that notwithstanding the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, the 13th and 14th Amendments, African Americans, Latinos, women, other people of color were often denied their right to vote well into the 20th century.

It took not just those amendments, but actually a statute enacted by this Congress to ensure that the rights of Americans to vote indeed could be preserved, and it was only in the aftermath of the '65 Voting Rights Act that we have seen the expansion of the franchise and democratization -- small "d" -- of our, you know, republic in a way that serves the interests of the founders.

Having said that, Congress reached a decision in reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act in 2006 that this law was necessary. Sixteen- thousand pages of the Congressional Record speak eloquently to that important interest. The fact that this issue was held both with congressional review and also a national commission set up by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and others in the civil rights community, holding hearings around the country added to the record that was created.

HENDERSON: The fact that this bill passed -- rather the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act -- 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate, speaks eloquently about the important need of this act and the continuing need for it.

So the fact that some on the Supreme Court found otherwise doesn't disturb me at all. There is a need for it; that need continues, and notwithstanding evidence.

CARDIN: Well, thank you for correcting my numbers on the number that had voted. I appreciate that.

I just want to ask Mr. McDaniel a quick question, and that is, during the confirmation hearings both Democratic and Republican senators have been urging from our nominee that you need to look at what the law is, and you can't judge based upon emotion. You have to do -- you have to follow the precedents of the court.

And I have a simple question to you in the Ricci case. Do you believe that the Sotomayor decision with the three-judge panel was within the mainstream of judicial decision-making when that decision was reached?

MCDANIEL: Senator, I do believe that. And to hear the stories of these firefighters in person, I -- I don't have any reason not to use the word empathy. I have a great deal of empathy for the circumstances that they have described, and I don't know that I have a great deal for how the city fathers handled the matter.

But by the time it made it to the 2nd Circuit I believe that the panel did what the law required, and I don't think that there is a just legal criticism for the way that the panel handled the matter. And the fact that the Supreme Court chose to change the law in a bare majority also is their prerogative.

CARDIN: Thank you very much.

Senator Sessions?


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