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

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CQ Transcriptions
Thursday, July 16, 2009; 4:58 PM

DURBIN: Ms. Chavez, do you think that Judge Sotomayor's being awarded the Pyne award at Princeton for high academic achievement and good character being summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa was because it was a quota, that they wanted to make sure there was a Latina who received that?

CHAVEZ: No, I don't. And in fact, what is interesting about Judge Sotomayor's tenure at Princeton University is that she has said that she was admitted as an affirmative action admittee because her test scores were not comparable to that of her peers.

But she has also has talked about what happened to her when she got there, and that she recognized that, in fact, she was not particularly well-prepared, that she did not write well and that one of her professors pulled her aside and said she had to work on her writing skills.

(UNKNOWN): So that would...

CHAVEZ: I admire...

(UNKNOWN): Excuse me. That would make it a pretty amazing story, then...

CHAVEZ: That's right. And I wish that that was the story that she was telling Latinos, that she...

(UNKNOWN): I think the story of her life that I'm describing...

CHAVEZ: Well, I wish that what she was telling Latinos is that, if you do what Ben Vargas has done; if you do what Frank Ricci has done; if you take home the books and you study them, and you memorize what you need to know so that you can pass the test like I did when I took home grammar books and learned how to write standard English, that that should be the story, not that she should be insisting on racial quotas and racial preferences.

(UNKNOWN): Ms. Chavez, I think that the story of her life is one of achievement, overcoming some odds that many people have never faced, in her family life and personal life.

Mr. Morgenthau, when you were alerted about her skills in law school, did they tell you that they had an opportunity, here, for you to hire a "wise Latina lawyer"?

Is that what you were the market for?

MORGENTHAU: Absolutely not. I mean, I took one look at her resume, you know, summa cum laude at Princeton, Yale Law Journal, and I said -- and then I talked to her, and I thought she was common-sense and judgment and willingness to work. The fact that was Latina or Latino had absolutely nothing to do with it. And may I just use this opportunity to say that I was one of the founding directors of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund. And the reason I did that was I thought it was important for what was then a way-underrepresented minority. You know, you're looking back 35, 40 years -- to have an organization which was dedicated to help people in housing court, discrimination cases.

So I urged her to join the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund. And, I mean, I had become a life member of the NAACP in 1951. I'd been on the National Commission of the Anti-Defamation League.

I think that, you know, one of the great strengths of the United States is its diversity. And -- but we've got to help people from the various minority groups make their way and advance.

And I must say I'm very critical of some of my friends and relatives who want to forget where they came from. And it's to her credit that she remembers where she came from.

(UNKNOWN): And, Mayor Bloomberg, I believe you had a quote that I read about Washington being, maybe, the only place -- would you recall that quote on the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund?

BLOOMBERG: Yes, I think that public service is something that, certainly, you, Senator, know the value of and the satisfaction when you do it. And in New York City, we value those who are wiling to give their time and help others. They walk away, in many cases, from lucrative careers to serve as public defenders or outside of the legal profession in myriad other ways.

And the fact that the organizations that they work for sometimes do things that you or I disagree with doesn't take away from the value that they provide in other things that they do.

(UNKNOWN): I just made a note the other day. This is my third nomination for the Supreme Court. I've been honored to serve on this committee and consider three nominees. The two previous nominees, Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Alito, both white males, and the questioning really came to this central point. "Do you as a white male," to each of these nominees we asked, "have sensitivity to those unlike yourself"? Minorities, disadvantaged people. And those questions were asked over and over again.

In this case where we have a minority woman seeking a position on the Supreme Court it seems the question is, are you going to go too far on the side of minorities and not really use the law in a fair fashion?

BLOOMBERG: Senator, isn't the reason that the founding fathers, at least I assume the reason the founding fathers said nine justices is that they wanted a diverse group of people with different life experiences who could work collaboratively and collectively to understand what the founding fathers meant generations later on. And so the fact that I said before in my testimony I do not think that no matter how compelling Justice Sotomayor's life experience and biography is, that's not the reason to appoint her. Certainly we benefit from having a diverse group of people on the Court in the same way as my city benefits from a diverse group of citizens.

(UNKNOWN): Mr. Chairman, if I could ask one last question. I might say, Mr. Mayor, you're getting dangerously close to empathy. But I happen to agree with you.

Mr. Morgenthau, when Judge Sotomayor worked in your office did you notice whether or not she treated minorities any differently in...

MORGENTHAU: She was right down the middle, Senator. She didn't treat minorities any differently than she treated anybody else. Right down the middle. Looked at the law. Tough but fair.

(UNKNOWN): Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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