Senator Russ Feingold's Opening Statement In Sotomayor's Hearings

While Kyl and the GOP Senators meander on (only Sessions has gone full frontal with his "Lost Cause" approach), Howie Kurtz twitted that no one pays attention to Senator Russ Feingold. Well, here at Talk Left, we do. Here is his opening statement, which was great:

The Supreme Court plays a unique and central role in the life of our nation. Those who sit as Justices have extraordinary power over some of the most important, and most intimate, aspects of the lives of American citizens. It is therefore not surprising at all that the nomination and confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice is such a widely anticipated and widely covered event. The nine men and women who sit on the court have enormous responsibilities, and those of us tasked with voting on the confirmation of a nominee have a significant responsibility as well. I consider this one of the most consequential things I must do as a United States Senator, and I am honored and humbled to have been given this role by the people of Wisconsin.

"The ultimate responsibility of the Supreme Court is to safeguard the rule of law, which defines us as a nation, and protects us all. In the past eight years, the Supreme Court has played a crucial role in checking some of the previous Administration's most egregious departures from the rule of law. Time after time in cases arising out of actions taken by the administration after September 11, the Court has said 'No. You have gone too far.'

"It said 'No' to the Bush Administration's view that it could set up a law-free zone at Guantanamo Bay. It said 'No' to the administration's view that it could hold a citizen in the United States incommunicado indefinitely, with no access to a lawyer. It said 'No' to the administration's decision to create military commissions without congressional authorization. And it said 'No' to the administration and to Congress when they tried to strip the constitutional right to habeas corpus from prisoners held at Guantanamo.

"These were courageous decisions, and in my opinion, they were correct decisions. They made plain, as Justice O'Connor wrote in the Hamdi decision in 2004, 'A state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens.'

"These were also close decisions, some decided by a 5-4 vote. That fact underscores the unparalleled power that each Supreme Court justice has. In my opinion, one of the most important qualities that a Supreme Court justice must have is courage: courage to stand up to the president, and to Congress, in order to protect the constitutional rights of the American people and preserve the rule of law.

"I have touched on the crucial recent decisions of the Court in the area of executive power, but we know, of course, that there are countless past Supreme Court decisions that have had a major impact on many aspects of our national life. The Court rejected racial discrimination in education; it guaranteed the principle of 'one person, one vote'; it made sure that even the poorest person accused of a crime in this country can be represented by counsel; it made sure that newspapers can't be sued for libel by public figures for making a mistake; it protected the privacy of telephone conversations from unjustified government eavesdropping; it protected an individual's right to possess a firearm for private use, and it even decided a presidential election.

It made these decisions by interpreting and applying open-ended language in our Constitution like 'equal protection of the laws,' 'due process of law,' 'freedom of ? the press,' 'unreasonable searches and seizures,' and 'the right to bear arms.' These momentous decisions were not simply the result of an umpire calling balls and strikes. Easy cases where the law is clear almost never make it to the Supreme Court. The great constitutional issues that the Supreme Court is called upon to decide require much more than mechanical application of universally accepted legal principles.

"That is why Justices need great legal expertise, but they also need wisdom, they need judgment, they need to understand the impact of their decisions on the parties before them and the country around them, from New York City to small towns like Spooner, Wisconsin, and they need a deep appreciation of and dedication to equality, to liberty, to democracy.

"That is why I suggest to everyone watching today that they be a little wary of a phrase they may hear at these hearings 'judicial activism.' That term really has lost all usefulness, particularly since so many rulings of the conservative majority on the Supreme Court can fairly be described as 'activist' in their disregard for precedent and their willingness to ignore or override the intent of Congress. At this point, perhaps we should all accept that the best definition of a 'judicial activist' is a judge who decides a case in a way you don't like. Each of the decisions I mentioned earlier was undoubtedly criticized by someone at the time it was issued, and maybe even today, as being 'judicial activism.' Yet some of them are among the most revered Supreme Court decisions in modern times.

"Mr. Chairman, every senator is entitled to ask whatever questions he or she wants at these hearings and to look to whatever factors he or she finds significant in evaluating this nominee. I hope Judge Sotomayor will answer all questions as fully as possible. I will have questions of my own on a range of issues. Certainly, with the two most recent Supreme Court nominations, senators asked tough questions and sought as much information from the nominees as we possibly could get. I expect nothing less from my colleagues in these hearings. I'm glad, however, that Judge Sotomayor will finally have an opportunity to answer some of the unsubstantiated charges that have been made against her.

"One attack that I find particularly shocking is the suggestion that she will be biased against some litigants because of her racial and ethnic heritage. This charge is not based on anything in her judicial record because there is absolutely nothing in the hundreds of opinions she has written to support it. That long record which is obviously the most relevant evidence we have to evaluate her demonstrates a cautious and careful approach to judging. Instead, a few lines from a 2001 speech, taken out of context, have prompted some to charge that she is a racist. I believe that no one who reads the whole Berkeley speech could honestly come to that conclusion. The speech is actually a remarkably thoughtful attempt to grapple with a difficult issue not often discussed by judges how do a judge's personal background and experiences affect her judging. And Judge Sotomayor concludes her speech by saying the following:

'I am reminded each day that I render decisions that affect people concretely and that I owe them constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives and ensuring that to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate them and change as circumstances and cases before me require.'

"Mr. Chairman, those are the words of a thoughtful, humble, and self-aware judge striving to do her very best to administer impartial justice for all Americans, from New York City to Spooner, Wisconsin. It seems to me that is a quality we want in our judges.

"Judge Sotomayor is living proof that this country is moving in the right direction on the issue of race, that doors of opportunity are finally starting to open to all of our citizens. Just as the election of President Obama gave new hope and encouragement to African American children all over this country, Judge Sotomayor's nomination will inspire countless Hispanic American children to study harder and dream higher, and that is something we should all celebrate.

"Let me again welcome and congratulate the nominee. I look forward to learning in these hearings whether she has the knowledge, the wisdom, the judgment, the integrity, and yes, the courage, to serve with distinction on our nation's highest court. Thank you Mr. Chairman."

(Emphasis supplied.) Spoeaking for me only.

< Sessions Attacks Civil Rights Groups, This Time The PRLDF | Sen. Feinstein On Right Wing Judicial Activism >
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  • Display: Sort:
    Bravo (none / 0) (#1)
    by andgarden on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:24:22 AM EST
    Senator Graham: "The Hispanic element of this hearing is important."


    Lindsey Graham said that (none / 0) (#2)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:25:28 AM EST
    right now?

    Unless there's something wrong with my hearing, (none / 0) (#3)
    by andgarden on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:25:58 AM EST

    The Klan will be hanging together today (none / 0) (#4)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:27:00 AM EST
    He was talking (none / 0) (#5)
    by jbindc on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:27:19 AM EST
    about the fact that Miguel Estrada, a poor Honduran immigrant, didn't get the chance Sotomayor has right now.

    It doesn't matter (none / 0) (#6)
    by andgarden on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:27:43 AM EST
    It's a dawg whistle! (none / 0) (#7)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:28:38 AM EST
    Oh I know (none / 0) (#8)
    by jbindc on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:31:07 AM EST
    I mentioned in another thread, that he was whining about it.

    Cuz this is about getting (none / 0) (#13)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:36:02 AM EST
    your special Latino on the court.  It isn't about anything outside of that like competent justices and what philosophies American voters have empowered at this time of tremendous upheaval and loss of our way :)

    He didn't seriously (none / 0) (#9)
    by Steve M on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:31:50 AM EST
    try to claim Miguel Estrada was a "poor immigrant," did he?

    I believe that's what he said. (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by jbindc on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:33:27 AM EST
    But Leahy is correcting the record saying Estrada was not given a hearing when Republicans while in charge, but was given a hearing when Dems were in charge.  Now Sessions is arguing against that point.

    Well (none / 0) (#17)
    by Steve M on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:40:43 AM EST
    it's probably not productive for them to get into an argument about Miguel Estrada's background, but my understanding is that he had a pretty decent middle-class upbringing and education in Honduras - not that I don't still admire his immigrant story, of course.  I think it pegs Graham more as the sort of person who thinks "he came here from Latin America, he obviously must have been horribly underprivileged."

    Hey (none / 0) (#22)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:51:58 AM EST
    It works for me. So shhhhh!

    sen. Leahy dropped in a reference to (none / 0) (#25)
    by oculus on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:58:03 AM EST
    Estrada's being wooed by a high-paying law firm.

    Pretty sure he did (none / 0) (#11)
    by andgarden on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:33:25 AM EST
    The African American element (none / 0) (#18)
    by Cream City on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:41:15 AM EST
    of the Thomas hearings certainly was important and raised continually.  And when Dems essentially say the same thing about Sotomayor -- as one is doing again right now -- it isn't a problem, is it?  

    Lindsey Graham (none / 0) (#10)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:32:08 AM EST
    walks away from Sessions.

    Very interesting.

    Graham was interesting (none / 0) (#15)
    by Cream City on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:38:04 AM EST
    as is your take on that.

    Do you disagree? (none / 0) (#16)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:39:46 AM EST
    I thought he pretty much walked away from Sessions' attacks on Sotomayor.

    Oh, I entirely agree (none / 0) (#19)
    by Cream City on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:42:05 AM EST
    but not being Hispanic, I wasn't sure I wasn't missing something.

    At least they weren't chummy (none / 0) (#21)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:47:36 AM EST
    Cardin represents my view of the Constitution (none / 0) (#14)
    by andgarden on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:37:55 AM EST

    Feingold really works (none / 0) (#20)
    by Cream City on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:46:01 AM EST
    at his comments in committee hearings, using the bully pulpit -- as he does in his annual tours of the state, speaking to Constitutional issues even if only a couple of people are present.  

    Note Russ' implied approval (none / 0) (#23)
    by Ben Masel on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:54:12 AM EST
    of the individual right to Keep and Bear.

    I sure did (none / 0) (#24)
    by andgarden on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 10:55:10 AM EST

    Not to Wisconsin voters. (none / 0) (#26)
    by Ben Masel on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 11:19:54 AM EST
    In 1998, 76% approved an amendment to the State Cobnstitution clearing up any ambiguity. Russ had previously been a co-sponsor as a State Senator, when his district had a substantial rural population. Not so much for that district now, due to suburban sprawl. Russ successor held it by a mere 30 votes, now the Republicans don't bother to field camndidates.

    The voters are often wrong (none / 0) (#27)
    by andgarden on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 11:23:01 AM EST
    Define "wrong.' (none / 0) (#28)
    by Ben Masel on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:03:43 PM EST
    How's things going in your absolute monarchy?

    I know a few folks in the military (none / 0) (#29)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:11:38 PM EST
    It would be too creepy for me if the people I know had access to arms and civilians didn't,  particularly after BushCo.  I do desire gun control.  I never knew what a 50 caliber weapon was and then learned that that is what is on the front of many attack helicopters and got an idea of what they destroy, and everyone can have one in their gun collection now too.  It makes a great living room conversation piece.  I noticed in my some of my recent readings that these crazy 50 cal weapons we make and sell are part of the insanity going on in Mexico too now.  If something is in your way get out your Barret.

    Do those 50 cals in Mexico (none / 0) (#30)
    by Ben Masel on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:25:26 PM EST
    come from the US civilian market, or are they diverted from what we provide the Mexican police and military?

    Good question (none / 0) (#32)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:38:27 PM EST
    I don't know.  I have a cousin who likes to trade and sell guns and he pointed the Barret out to my spouse and I as an investment.  I think it was about $5,000 then, don't know what it runs now...but it was when the markets were taking their first dive.  He told us that if the next president was a Democrat that our investment would be gold too :)  We didn't do it.  It's too creepy.  And imagine if I sold something like that to someone and they shot down a commuter jet or something.  Another thing about this strange family.  We don't own any guns :)  My husband has the pilot sidearm, it looks pretty junky to me too, but we have no ammo for it....he says if he needs it he knows where to get it, at work.  But I do believe that American civilians need the right to bear arms.  Maybe not 50 cals though.

    Watching Public Enemies (5.00 / 1) (#33)
    by lilburro on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:42:32 PM EST
    make me glad that we have gun control of some sort.  My thought while watching the crazies running around with those guns was god, this must be like Republican paradise!

    Columbus, WI, where most of the film was shot (none / 0) (#37)
    by Ben Masel on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:49:29 PM EST
    until recently solidly Republican, now purple, with an unusually high number of split party ballots cast.

    When I lived in WY (none / 0) (#40)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:53:04 PM EST
    We got a huge influx of WI hunters every year.  They paid big money for tags, big money for guides, tipped female bartenders very well :)

    Russ runs stronger in Columbus (none / 0) (#56)
    by Ben Masel on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 01:17:35 PM EST
    than any other Democrat. He carried it easily in 2004 while Kerry lost small. It still goes Republican for the legislature, Tammy wins it big against winger Republicans, loses it when they field a moderate.

    In my monarchy, you would have no right (none / 0) (#31)
    by andgarden on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:35:17 PM EST
    individually to any particular firearm. No more than you would have a right to a car. But that's based on my own policy preferences, not the U.S. Constitution (which, by coincidence, I think happens to agree with me).

    Why do I have the feeling (none / 0) (#34)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:44:29 PM EST
    you have an excellent argument well developed at your fingertips?  You would really be okay with "bad apples" being the only people on the block with a gun :)?  And they have really evil ones too.  All I want is some rickety thing that I can pick a few of em off with if I ever need to encourage them to think twice :)  Ya know....BushCo employed Blackwater in New Orleans and really bad things happened.  We have stories and dead bodies that tell no tales.  If one of those S.O.B.s came after me I hope one of my dog's would rip their throat out.  Sadly, I don't care for such dogs either.  I suppose I'm doomed, but I'm doomed by choice.

    heh (none / 0) (#36)
    by andgarden on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:48:51 PM EST
    You know, not believing in an individual right does not mean "ban all gun ownership."

    as "King of the US" would you (none / 0) (#39)
    by Ben Masel on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:52:59 PM EST
    respect the decision of the Wisconsin electorate to enshrine an individual firearms right in the State Constitution?

    No (none / 0) (#42)
    by andgarden on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:56:56 PM EST
    It's a Constitution for all of us, not just some states.

    Let me revise that (5.00 / 1) (#43)
    by andgarden on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:57:50 PM EST
    I would not allow Wisconsin to abstain from enforcing federal gun laws.

    States don't enforce Federal laws, (none / 0) (#50)
    by Ben Masel on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 01:02:02 PM EST
    tho they're often pressured by appropriations riders to adopt laws of their own reflecting Federal Congressional priorities. Do you mean to suggest you'd not exempt individual Wisconsinites from Federal firearms prosecutions?

    They don't enforce federal laws (none / 0) (#51)
    by andgarden on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 01:07:56 PM EST
    only because the Court has recently never shared my view of federalism: that states are irrelevant appendages. As monarch, I would correct that problem.

    But here's what I would say to you about firearm ownership: if you could convince me that an individual right is a valuable right, I would enforce it for everyone. I'm just not convinced of the value.


    Really?! (none / 0) (#45)
    by Steve M on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:59:30 PM EST
    So if the Constitution doesn't protect a particular right... states aren't allowed to protect it either?  Any room for the Ninth and Tenth Amendments in that Constitution of yours?

    Well, I think rights are generally universal (none / 0) (#52)
    by andgarden on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 01:09:29 PM EST
    If we evolve a new right, it's for everyone.

    But as I say, I think states are fundamentally dysfunctional, and "we the people" should do away with them, along with the Senate.


    Have you written that Con. law essay (none / 0) (#53)
    by oculus on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 01:15:10 PM EST
    exam yet.  Could be velly velly interesting.

    heh (none / 0) (#57)
    by andgarden on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 01:18:34 PM EST
    Would you also do away (none / 0) (#54)
    by Steve M on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 01:15:24 PM EST
    with other political subdivisions such as counties, cities and towns?

    By the way, I personally believe that self-defense is a human right, so I'm with you on the universal point.  But I'd rather have a right halfway protected than not protected at all!


    Well, self-defense is not an unlimited right (none / 0) (#55)
    by andgarden on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 01:17:33 PM EST
    You can't, after all, set off a nuclear weapon, in my opinion.

    Smaller subdivisions might be necessary, but I think we need to move towards a more national government.


    Nukes take out a lot more (none / 0) (#58)
    by Ben Masel on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 01:20:28 PM EST
    than the assailant. Conventional firearms, even "Assault Weapons," not.

    But where to draw the line (none / 0) (#59)
    by andgarden on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 01:23:02 PM EST
    Can you have a bazooka? How about a flame thrower?

    Um (none / 0) (#61)
    by Steve M on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 01:47:23 PM EST
    A handgun is plenty sufficient for self-defense in my book.

    No I don't know this andgarden :) (none / 0) (#41)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:56:07 PM EST
    I've never studied for or passed the bar exam and seldom pass a plain ole bar either on a decent weekend :)  If I knew all this who would I pay legal fees to?

    None of this stuff is taught in law school, (5.00 / 1) (#64)
    by oculus on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 04:32:44 PM EST
    at least until endgarden starts up his own law school.

    You (none / 0) (#35)
    by jbindc on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:48:41 PM EST
    wouldn't let us have cars?

    We would have to go (none / 0) (#46)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:59:44 PM EST
    to Andgarden driving certification school first :)  Who could love Nascar and pass the Andgarden psych test?  The South would be completely on foot.

    Nothing scares me more... (none / 0) (#49)
    by kdog on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 01:01:44 PM EST
    than a tyrant who thinks they are benevolent and doing you favors by restricting your liberty and controlling your life.

    I'm scared to think of how long our pal andgarden's list of forbidden items would be...and what a terrible place it would be to try and breathe free:)


    Oh, because the Constitution doesn't (none / 0) (#47)
    by oculus on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 01:00:33 PM EST
    expressly address ownership of vehicles?  Who are you?  A quasi-Scalia?

    heh, no (none / 0) (#60)
    by andgarden on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 01:25:15 PM EST
    Because I don't think you SHOULD have such a right.

    I could live very comfortably (5.00 / 1) (#63)
    by Dr Molly on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 03:01:45 PM EST
    in andgarden's benevolent monarchy. mo better world.

    Ha (none / 0) (#62)
    by jbindc on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 01:55:18 PM EST
    You need to leave the east coast once in a while and try to live and work.

    Is Feingold a gun owner/hunter? (none / 0) (#38)
    by oculus on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:52:17 PM EST
    Never posed with one, and I doubt it. (none / 0) (#44)
    by Ben Masel on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 12:58:18 PM EST
    In informal Q&A after an event in '03, I heard him refer to an evoultion of his thinking towards seeing the "Bill of Rights as a seamless whole" and credited feedback at his listening sessions for convincing him the Assault Weapons Ban was not useful in limiting actual crimes, but merely a feelgood measure distinguishing between rifles on their cosmetics.

    Unfortunately the Sen. is probably (none / 0) (#48)
    by oculus on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 01:01:36 PM EST
    correct on the "feel good" aspects.