From the Desk of Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton:
Sotomayor Evasive, Disingenuous During Confirmation Hearings
The eagerly anticipated confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor got underway this week. And how did she do?
Let’s start with Sotomayor’s rambling and constantly shifting explanation for one of her most controversial statements — that she "would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life." This racist remark was made during a speech Sotomayor delivered to students at Cal Berkeley in 2001. The reason it is getting so much attention is that it calls into question Judge Sotomayor’s impartiality — and she made the remark repeatedly through the years. (Judicial Watch addressed this comment and many other troublesome statements and activities by Sotomayor in a letter to Senators Patrick Leahy, D-VT, and Jeff Sessions, R-AL, last week. You can read it by clicking here.)
During the hearing, at first, Sotomayor dismissed the statement as a "rhetorical flourish" that "fell flat." However, under subsequent questioning Sotomayor attempted to defend her remarks, indicating that it was an attempt to "inspire" her audience. Of course Sotomayor quickly added that the comment has nothing to do with her attitude towards dispensing justice, which she claims is firmly rooted in the rule of law. (Action by the Supreme Court might argue this point, given that the High Court just overturned the decision she helped make in the Ricci racial discrimination matter. Click here for more.)
Sotomayor also tried to justify the comment by comparing it to allegedly similar ones made by Justice Alito and former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. And in another explanation she said her words shouldn’t be taken literally.
"I think she just made it more muddled," said Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. In sum, Judge Sotomayor tried to deny the plain meaning of her "wise Latina" statements. This disingenuous approach may pass muster in Washington, but most people would be troubled by her lawyerly evasions.
Can you recall a Supreme Court nominee in recent years that has had to spend so much time defending their impartiality as a judge? I can’t.
On the issue of abortion Sotomayor said that she feels Roe v Wade is "settled law." According to The Associated Press: "Supreme Court aspirant Sonia Sotomayor said Tuesday that she considers the question of abortion rights is settled precedent and says there is a constitutional right to privacy…Answering a question later from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Sotomayor said that "all precedents of the Supreme Court I consider settled law…" This doesn’t mean much, as the Supreme Court regularly overturns its precedents.
Judge Sotomayor said she had no idea why one of her former colleagues at the New York law firm Pavia & Harcourt would say, "I can guarantee she’ll be for abortion rights." Maybe he knew of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund’s radical pro-abortion agenda when she helped run the organization? But Judge Sotomayor professed to have no clue about the legal positions of her former group, despite the fact that she set the group’s litigation agenda.
Senator Lindsey Graham also initiated a tough, dramatic line of questioning with respect to Sotomayor’s temperament. In fact, Senator Graham flat out asked her: "Do you have a temperament problem?" (Sotomayor has been described as a "bully" on the bench.) Sotomayor attempted to defend herself against the charge but the issue was still left hanging in the hearing room.
Sotomayor’s problem for this hearing was a big one. She has had to defend the indefensible. She did this by reversing course, professing fidelity to the law, disavowing her radical judicial philosophy as described in her many speeches and writings, and by misleading the committee on one some of her more controversial decisions.
The judge went so far as to disavow President Obama’s lawless "empathy" standard for picking judges. Judge Sotomayor said that she would apply the law to the facts. She said, "Judges can’t rely on what is in their heart."
In the end, she sounded like the most conservative nominee to the Supreme Court by a Democratic president in thirty years. (It is interesting that, even in the age of Obama, liberal jurists must pretend to be conservatives to gain Senate approval. It confirms the victory of conservatives in framing the public policy debate over liberal judicial activism. Even Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court must pretend to reject judicial activism.)
There is no question, given all of her "wise Latina" and other radical statements and her long-term connection to groups such as the far-left Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, that Judge Sotomayor is the wrong judge for a seat on the Supreme Court. I don’t believe her confirmation conversion to "fidelity to the law."
Unfortunately, Republicans seem resigned to the fact that Judge Sotomayor will be confirmed with little debate, but it’s not too late to change the situation. You must make your voices heard! Even liberal Senator Feinstein (D-CA) admitted this week that she had received calls of concern on the Sotomayor nomination. These calls matter. Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard today at 202-224-3121, and let your senators know your thoughts.
Some in the press have characterized the Sotomayor hearings as "grueling." I attended them for a bit and I found them interesting — in how a nominee can evade questions, deny her record, and largely control the room in the face of questioning by hapless senators. A well-prepared lawyer like Judge Sotomayor can do these types of hearings in their sleep.
There have been some tough questions for sure, but without an underlying commitment to carefully making the case against this nomination too many of the questions amounted to nothing more than "rhetorical flourishes" that "fall flat." As a result, Americans may end up with a biased, activist justice on the Supreme Court.
Judicial Watch Files FOIA Lawsuit against CIA to Obtain Records On Results of Enhanced Interrogations
You may recall that in March President Obama overruled objections from national security officials and released documents detailing the government’s enhanced interrogation program of terrorists (the so-called "torture" memos). At the time, the president was heavily criticized for cherry picking documents that supported his view — that such techniques don’t work and shouldn’t be used. In fact, he withheld information detailing the results of this program, including alleged terrorist plots that the program prevented.
Judicial Watch jumped into the fray and filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to obtain these documents. The agency failed to respond, and on July 14th we filed a lawsuit.
According to the complaint, which you can read here, Judicial Watch is seeking the following records:
a.CIA Report dated July 13, 2004, from Collection title "OVP Cheney, Immediate Office Files," Folder Title "Detainees."
b.CIA Report dated June 1, 2005, from Collection title "OVP Cheney, Immediate Office Files," Folder Title "Detainees."
Judicial Watch filed its original FOIA request with the CIA on May 18, 2009. On June 25, 2009, the CIA acknowledged receipt of the request but provided no documents and did not specify when Judicial Watch would receive a substantive response. By law, the CIA had until June 30, 2009, to provide any non-exempt records.
Now, on March 31, 2009, Vice President Cheney personally issued a request with the National Archives Presidential Libraries section for declassification review of these two specific documents. The Archives then passed on the request to the CIA for review on April 8, 2009. Ultimately, the CIA rejected Cheney’s request.
CIA interrogations have been the subject of great controversy over the last few months. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came under fire in April when she claimed she was never briefed about the CIA’s use of the waterboarding technique during terrorism investigations. The CIA produced a report documenting a briefing with Pelosi on September 4, 2002, that suggests otherwise. Sources close to Pelosi also admitted that a staff aide also told Pelosi about the use of waterboarding, after being briefed by the CIA.
In recent weeks, I’ve written extensively on President Obama’s willingness to repeatedly violate his pledge of government transparency. This is another classic example. The American people deserve to know the full truth about whether the terrorist interrogation program saved American lives by preventing terrorist attacks. President Obama should stop stonewalling, release the documents, and allow the American people to judge for themselves.
Capitol Hill Corruption Briefs: Ensign and Conyers in Hot Water
Senator John Ensign (R-NV) admitted recently to an illicit affair with a former campaign worker, Cynthia L. Hampton, who also happened to be married to Ensign’s former administrative assistant. But that’s not the end of the story. As The Washington Post rightly points out in an editorial:
"The damning details of Sen. John Ensign’s adulterous relationship with a former campaign worker continue to trickle out. Last week the Nevada Republican acknowledged that his parents paid his mistress and her family nearly $100,000. The payments were characterized as gifts, but there have been so many conflicting stories about alleged payments of money that there is the need for a thorough investigation."
Ensign claims these payments were made out of "concern for the well-being of longtime family friends." No one is buying it. They certainly look like hush payments to me.
The Post also notes that there are other issues that merit investigation. Since Ensign had an affair with a subordinate whom he subsequently dismissed, does his conduct constitute sexual harassment? (Ensign canned the husband as well.) Moreover, the National Republican Senatorial Committee hired one of the couple’s sons while Ensign served as the committee’s chairman. Was this a favor to keep the Hamptons quiet?
Ensign voluntarily relinquished his position as head of the Republican Policy Committee and apologized to his colleagues, however he still plans to remain in the Senate. The Senate Ethics Committee should thoroughly investigate Ensign’s behavior and take appropriate action. Rather than doing the right thing and resigning outright from the Senate, Ensign is following the Bill Clinton example by pretending his corrupt affairs have no relation to his ability to serve, hold public office and the public trust.
(Ensign has an incentive to stay in office, as it is easier to fend off criminal charges as sitting member of Congress.)
Meanwhile, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) is back in the news as well for all of the wrong reasons — again. Here’s the scoop according to The Washington Times:
Rep. John Conyers Jr. reversed his opposition to a controversial hazardous waste project in his district, writing a letter of support to the federal government with the help of his wife, former Detroit City Council member Monica Conyers, whose aide later linked her to receiving money from the contractor in the project.
The letter, sent in July 2007, was written in support of permit transfers for a hazardous waste injection well project in the city of Romulus, Mich., which was operated by a company with ties to Mrs. Conyers, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in a federal investigation unrelated to the hazardous waste project.
This is hardly the first time Conyers has been wrapped up in a scandal. As you may recall, Rep. Conyers allegedly violated the law and House ethics rules by forcing his staff to serve as his personal servants, babysitters, valets and campaign workers (for his wife’s city council campaign!) while on the federal government payroll.
The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (Ethics Committee) investigated these allegations in 2006, and substantiated a number of the accusations against Conyers. However, in typical fashion, the so-called Ethics Committee let Conyers off the hook, blaming the staff and requiring additional administrative record-keeping and employee training. And the Justice Department under both Bush and Obama has looked the other way, too.
This is what happens when corrupt officials are allowed to violate the public trust with impunity. They just do it again.
Until next week…
Tom Fitton President
Judicial Watch is a non-partisan, educational foundation organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue code. Judicial Watch is dedicated to fighting government and judicial corruption and promoting a return to ethics and morality in our nation’s public life. To make a tax-deductible contribution in support of our efforts, click here.