CURL: Silent Sotomayor courts lawmakers, thwarts reporters

Judge Sonia Sotomayor is, sadly, unable to speak for herself.

The New York-born daughter of Puerto Rican parents who would be the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court spent the day in the Senate on Tuesday, stopping by to say “Hi!” to at least seven senators. But that is only conjecture - she was never once filmed speaking, and reporters captured nary a response to questions peppered at her as she visited with nine lawmakers at the Capitol.

“She didn’t even clear her throat,” said one photographer after the mute judge popped in to see Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The hardest hit: Radio reporters. “It’s mostly just the senators saying, ‘Thank you for coming,’ ” Annie Berman of talk radio said just after trying for the fifth time to get some sound - any sound - from America’s most sought-after judge.

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As the day stretched on - reporters and camera crews running from office to office, zipping over to the Russell Senate Office Building, then the Hart building, then right back to where it all started - it became more and more bizarre.

“I think I heard her say ‘wow,’ ” Dana Milbank of The Washington Post said, but that was when Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, was showing her around his office.

The judge seemed determined not to give anyone anything - no quotes for writers, no sound for radio, no pictures for TV.

She was shepherded through the Senate by Stephanie Cutter, the Treasury Department’s communications director, picked for the job by the White House, but it was unclear whether she forbade the nominee from actually speaking.

But evidence stacked up quickly that she would not budge, no how. “Judge,” called out the Associated Press’ Laurie Kellman after the Reid meeting, “How are you feeling today?”

“Sotomayor, closely guarded by Cutter, would not divulge her condition,” Mr. Milbank wrote in a pool report.

At her fifth stop, it got just plain weird. “Judge!” CNN’s Ted Barrett said in a firm, loud voice, standing not eight feet from Judge Sotomayor. “What do you think of the fact that two prominent conservatives have called you a racist?”

The judge, already smiling broadly - a smile that fixed on her face at every stop - shifted slightly on the sofa, suddenly leaning a few inches forward. That was it - that was her answer. “Thank you!” handlers shouted in Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate office.

It was the second time Mr. Barrett tried the question. “You’ve got four more chances,” one reporter noted, as the judge had four more planned stops. “She only has to answer it once,” the CNN reporter said optimistically.

Speculation began to travel: Was she bitten by a bat and got rabies, which had led to lockjaw? Did she take a fastball on the chin and have to have her jaw wired shut? Had the White House, clearly stung by her endlessly played tapes where she advocates making policy from the bench, secretly had her voice box removed?

The exercise raised the question as to why the White House had announced the visits, why the Senate had put out a schedule, complete with times, for her nine stops, and even more, why all those reporters kept dutifully traipsing from place to place.

Ah, right, the senators. It soon became clear that this was about them, not her.

“We have the whole package here,” said Mr. Reid, seated beside Judge Sotomayor before the two met in his Capitol office. “America identifies with the underdog, and you’ve been an underdog many times in your life, but always the top dog,” the Nevada Democrat said.

For her part, Judge Sotomayor blinked, nodded, smiled, blinked, smiled broadly, nodded, and, at one point, mouthed a silent “thank you.”

Sitting on the couches in Sen. Jeff Sessions office, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee praised her, but first offered this warning to a huge throng of reporters that had jammed in. “I know she’s probably not going to talk to you now.” She didn’t, she just smiled, blinked, nodded, and smiled some more.

Waiting for the senator to come out and talk some more, a few reporters toddled down the hall to find out why hundreds of schoolchildren were screaming. Walking in on a pack of kids at an “Everybody Wins” reading event, the children yelled: “No more monkeys jumping on the bed!”

But back in the hallway, Mr. Sessions vowed that the judge’s confirmation hearing will be so fair that “I’d like to hear people say, ‘This is the best hearing we’ve ever had.’ ”

Asked if he discussed with her the judge’s statement that as a Hispanic, she “would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male,” the senator caught whatever had muted Judge Sotomayor. “It really was not a detailed discussion,” he said, although he did add that he was impressed by her “energy level.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said the judge stopped by because “we wanted to talk about New York.” But he then divulged the most important news scoop of the day: “She’s a bicycle rider; I’m a bicycle rider.”

At her last stop, a visit with Californias Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the nominee offered one comment after the Democratic senator asked if a TV sound man sitting on the floor needed help getting up.

“If I was on the floor, you’d have to offer it to me,” Judge Sotomayor said.

• Joseph Curl can be reached at jcurl@washingtontimes.com.

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