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Sotomayor gets the tough issues from a friendly questioner

After a day of speechifying, the Senate got down to the questions we've all been waiting for right off the bat in Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearing. But they're coming from Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat and ally. He asked about the Ricci case out of New Haven, in which Judge Sotomayor's decision on a race-related case was just overturned by the Supreme Court, and then about the now famous "wise Latina woman" comment. Her answers in a nutshell:

  • On Ricci, she was following precedent. Had the standard established by the Supreme Court in overturning the decision been in place, she would have ruled differently.
  • On "wise Latina" she said she made the remarks while speaking to young Latino lawyers. She said, "I was trying to inspire them to believe their life experiences would enrich the legal system because different backgrounds and beliefs always do. I don't think there's a question about that in society. ... I want to state up front, unequivocally and without a doubt, I do not believe any ethnic, racial or gender group has any advantage in sound judgment. I believe every person has the opportunity to be a wise and sound judge, regardless of background."

So that's it, right? Questions answered, we can all go home now? Doubtful. Republican senators yesterday suggested that there is, in fact, debate over whether different backgrounds and beliefs enrich the legal system. Then there's the question of whether Judge Sotomayor should have provided a more thorough opinion in the Ricci case, rather than the perfunctory one she and other judges on the panel signed. And we haven't even gotten into the dreaded e-word, the formerly desireable trait of empathy.

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What we're witnessing so far has little to do with law and lots to do with PR. Judge Sotomayor has not made any public statements heretofore explaining the "wise Latina" comment or the Ricci decision. It was smart to allow her a chance to answer the question first in a friendly setting. Now, when she's grilled about it from hostile questioners, she can reach back to her initial statement, and she at least got it all out for the TV cameras.

Now the Republicans get a turn, and things will start to get interesting.

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