- The Washington Times - Friday, July 17, 2009

Judged against the standard of the U.S. Senate, maybe Sonia Sotomayor has a point. “A wise Latina” certainly came across smarter than most of those white men on the Judiciary Committee.

The hearings on her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court ended Thursday, and the mash notes served up to her by gaga Democratic senators when it was time for everybody to go home summed up just about all that everybody learned from the week’s work.

Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island appeared to speak for all the Democrats on the committee, telling her that just watching and listening to her evasive answers to cream-puff questions “gives me goose bumps.” Goose bumps are catching. Chris Matthews, who may have the loosest mouth among the cable-TV guys, first spoke for the Democrats when he said that when President Obama speaks he feels something crawling up his leg. (In fairness to the president, Mr. Obama was nowhere near Chris when Chris said that, and besides, the president always keeps his hands in his pockets.)

Russell Feingold of Wisconsin told Mzz Sotomayor that he looks forward to listening to her for “years to come” in the comfort of his “family room,” though Supreme Court justices rarely make house calls. Al Franken surprised everyone, showing up for his first Senate gig in a clean shirt with his new suit from K-Mart freshly pressed, and told Mzz Sotomayor that he was inspired by “your determination to beat the odds.” He didn’t say a single dirty word, perhaps a Franken first. Dianne Feinstein, eager to be one of the boys, told the nominee that she had won “an A-plus plus.” (The senator is known for grading her friends on a shallow curve.)

This was par for the course. Patrick Leahy of the Boutique of Vermont seemed confused most of the week, garbling his questions and misquoting Mzz Sotomayor. Reprising her famous remark that “Latinas” are inherently smarter than white folks — “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life” — the senator told her that she had “said, quote, you ‘would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would reach wise decisions.’ ” Not remotely accurate, but no one could blame the nominee if she felt no need to correct him. Several aides, always hovering over their senator to show him how to take a cell phone call, find the men’s room or the way back to the office, winced.

As useless as these Senate hearings have become, no immediate harm was done this time to the public weal. Mzz Sotomayor will almost certainly be confirmed by the full Senate, barring an earthquake or a tsunami on the Potomac, but replacing David Souter, the reliable cipher on the left, is not likely to upset the 5 to 4 conservative to liberal cast of the court. Everyone, Democrat and Republican alike, expects her to be a reliable liberal justice. The lesson the Sotomayor nomination teaches is that elections have consequences; Barack Obama merely put it more bluntly than presidents usually do when he said a justice with “empathy” is what he looks for — not necessarily empathy for the Constitution or even empathy for the common man, but empathy for his activist liberal point of view.

Hearings on judicial nominees were once meant to be “teaching moments,” seminars on the Constitution and its meaning. No longer. The Sotomayor hearings, being typical, revealed nothing more than that both sides were well prepared. The Democrats felt fuzzy crawly things moving up their legs and the Republicans spent the week lying low, always anxious not to offend. Substantive policy issues, no longer much discussed, offer the best clues to how a justice will perform once installed on the court.

“The [hearings] process is designed to conceal this,” Frederick Schauer, a law professor at the University of Virginia, tells Politico, the Capitol Hill daily. Mark Tushnet, a Harvard law professor, agrees. The hearings confirm what everyone already knew, that “a well-prepared nominee can skate through the hearings without revealing anything other than the fact that she’s well-prepared.”

Once on the court, she can discard the camouflage she has worn this week like a burqa, and be free to be who she really is, an activist and a liberal eager to settle old racial scores and assisting in the imposition of the nightmare vision of the left.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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