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.
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?