Transcript: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.)
Opening Statement

CQ Transcriptions

Read all opening statement transcripts at our Opening Arguments blog.

Monday July 13, 2009

Well, Judge Sotomayor, welcome to the United States Senate. I think you'll find that each member of this committee, each member of the United States Senate wants to do what's right for our country. Now, we may differ on some of our views, as will come out during this hearing, but I think we all share a respect for your public service and thank you for your willingness to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, and we thank your family for the sacrifices that they have made.

I am honored to represent the people of Maryland in the United States Senate and to serve on the Judiciary Committee as we consider one of our most important responsibilities, whether we should recommend to the full Senate the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

The next term of the Supreme Court that begins in October is likely to consider fundamental issues that will impact the lives of all Americans. In recent years, there have been many important decisions decided by the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote.

Each justice can play a critical role in forming the needed consensus in our nation's highest court. A new justice could and very well may have a profound impact on the direction of the court.

Supreme Court decisions affect each and every person in our nation. I think of my own family's history. My grandfather came to America more than 100 years ago. I'm convinced that they came to America not only for greater economic opportunities, because of the ideals expressed in our Constitution, especially the First Amendment, guaranteeing religious freedom.

My grandparents wanted their children to grow up in a country where they were able to practice their Jewish faith and fully participate in their community and government. My father, one of their sons, became a lawyer, state legislator, circuit court judge, and president of the synagogue, and now his son serves in the United States Senate.

While our founding fathers made freedom of religion a priority, equal protection for all races took longer to achieve. I attended Liberty School No. 64, a public elementary school in Baltimore City. It was part of a segregated public school system that, under law, denied every student in Baltimore the opportunity to learn in a classroom that represented the diversity of our community.

I remember with great sadness how discrimination was not only condoned, but more often than not, actually encouraged against blacks, Jews, Catholics and other minorities in the community. There were neighborhoods that my parents warned me to avoid for fear of safety, because I was Jewish.

The local movie theater denied admissions to African-Americans. Community swimming pools had signs that said "No Jews, no blacks allowed." Even Baltimore's amusement parks and sports clubs were segregated by race.

Then came Brown v. Board of Education and suddenly my universe and community were changed forever.

The decision itself moved our nation forward by correcting grievous wrongs that were built into the law. It also brought to the forefront of our nation's consciousness a great future jurist from Baltimore, Thurgood Marshall.

Marshall had been denied admission to the University of Maryland Law School due to the color of his skin, but went on to represent the plaintiffs in the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education. And in 1967, it was Marshall, the grandson of a slave, who was appointment by President Lyndon Johnson as the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court.

The nine justices of the United States Supreme Court have the tremendous responsibility of safeguarding the framers' intent in guiding values of our Constitution while ensuring the protection of rights found in that very Constitution are applied to and relevant to the issues of our day. At times, the Supreme Court has, and should, look beyond popular sentiment to preserve these basic principles in rule of law. The next justice who will fill Justice Souter's place on the court will be an important voice on these fundamental issues.

It is my belief that the Constitution and Bill of Rights were created to be living documents that stand together as a foundation for the rule of law in our nation. Our history reflects this. When the Constitution was written, African-Americans were considered property and counted only three-fifths of a person.

Non-whites and women were not allowed to vote. Individuals were restricted by race as to who they could marry. Laws were passed by Congress and decisions by the Supreme Court undeniably moved our country forward, continuing the progression of constitutional protections that have changed our nation for the better.

Before the Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that separate was not equal, the law permitted our society to have separate facilities for black and white students. Before the Court rule in Loving v. Virginia, a state could prohibit persons from marrying based on race. Before the court ruled in Roe v. Wade, women had no constitutional implied right to privacy.

These are difficult questions that have come before the court and that the framers could not have anticipated. New challenges will continue to arise, but the basic framework of protections remain.

I want to compliment President Obama in forwarding to the United States Senate a nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who is well qualified for our consideration. Her well-rounded background, including extensive experience as a prosecutor, trial judge and appellate judge will prove a valuable addition to our nation's court.

As a relatively new member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as I prepared for this week, I considered a few key standards that apply to all judicial nominations. First, I believe nominees must have an appreciation of the Constitution and the protections it provides to each and every American. She or he must embrace judicial philosophy that reflects mainstream American values, not narrow ideological interests.

They should have a strong passion to continue the Court's advancements in civil rights. There is a careful balance to be found here. Our next justice should advance the protections in our Constitution but not disregard important precedents that have made our society stronger by embracing our civil liberties.

I believe judicial nominees also must demonstrate a respect for the rights and responsibilities of each branch of government. These criteria allow me to evaluate a particular judge whether she or he might place on their personal philosophy ahead of the responsibility of their office.

As this committee begins considering the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, I want to quote justice Thurgood Marshall who said, "None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps." It was -- Judge Sotomayor is a perfect example of how family, hard work, supportive professors and mentors and opportunity can come together to create a real American success story.

She was born in New York to a Puerto Rican family and grew up in public housing projects in South Bronx. Her mother was a nurse, and her father was a factory worker with a third-grade education. She was taught early in life that education is the key to success, and her strong work ethic enabled her to excel in school and graduate valedictorian of her high school.

She attended Princeton University, graduating cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, and she received the highest honor Princeton awards to an undergraduate. At Yale Law School, she was editor of the Law Review where she was known to stand up for herself and not be intimidated by anyone.

Nominated by both Democrats and Republican presidents, for 17 years, she has been a distinguished jurist and now has more federal judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in the last hundred years.

This week's hearings are essential. With some understanding of the context of Judge Sotomayor's life and the role she potentially is about to fill in the Supreme Court, I believe it's particularly important during these confirmation hearings to question Judge Sotomayor on the guiding principles she would use in reaching decisions.

For example, it is important for me to understand her interpretation of established precedent on protecting individual constitutional rights. I believe it would be wrong for the Supreme Court justices to turn back on landmark court precedents protecting individual constitutional rights.

It is likely the Supreme Court will consider important protections in our Constitution for women, our environment, and consumers as well as voting rights, privacy, and separation of church and state, among others, in coming years. The Supreme Court also has recently been active in imposing limits on executive power. It will continue to deal with the constitutional rights in our criminal justice system, the rights of terror detainees, and the rights of noncitizens.

All of these issues test our nation's and the Supreme Court's commitment to our founding principles and fundamental values. For this reason, we need to know how our nominee might approach the issues and analyze these decisions.

Mr. Chairman, I look forward to hearing from Judge Sotomayor on these issues and expect that she will share with this committee and the American people her judicial views and her thoughts on the protections in our Constitution.

Once again, Judge Sotomayor, I want to thank you for your public service and readiness to take on these great responsibilities for our nation. I also, again, want to thank your family for their clear support and sacrifice that has brought us to this hearing today.


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