Playing Good Cop/Bad Cop with Sotomayor?

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The Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are either playing a very delicate game of good cop/bad cop with President Obama’s nominee to the nation’s highest court, Sonia Sotomayor, or they’re fracturing as a conference and a large number of Rs could end up voting for her.
Senator Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the panel, came out swinging in his opening statement:

“I fear that this thinking empathy standard is another step down the road to a liberal, activist, results-oriented, relativistic world, where laws lose their fixed meaning, unelected judges set policy, Americans are seen as members of separate groups rather than as simply Americans, where the constitutional limits on government power are ignored when politicians want to buy out private companies,” Sessions said. “I feel we’ve reached a fork in the road, I think, and there are stark differences. I want to be clear. I will not vote for, and no senator should vote for, an individual nominated by any president who is not fully committed to fairness and impartiality toward every person who appears before them.”

That fork in the road could have been in his own party. If Sessions went the base-pleasing route, his colleague Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, took the opposite tact. Less than an hour later, Graham predicted Sotomayor would sail through.

“Unless you have a complete meltdown, you will be confirmed. I do not think you will [have a meltdown],” Graham said. “My Republican colleagues who vote against you, I assure you, can vote for a Hispanic nominee; they’re just unnerved by some of your speeches.”

Graham is known, at times, for being a bit of a maverick and his comments may have offended some party conservatives but few of the Republicans on the panel seemed inclined to criticize Sotomayor head on. Republicans and Democrats alike praised her compelling personal story and, for the most part, her qualifications. What criticism arose was mostly over Sotomayor’s speeches: the now-infamous “wise Latina” and another to the Puerto Rican ACLU where she talked about the importance of foreign laws.

“The factors that will influence her decisions apparently include her gender and Latina heritage and foreign legal concepts that, as she said, get her creative juices going,” said Senator Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican.

If anything the panel’s Republicans focused their fire on Obama himself and past Democratic filibusters of other judges. Many harped on Obama’s stated desire for a judge with “empathy” a trigger word implying, to them, a judge who legislates from the bench. Others, such as Utah’s Orrin Hatch, spent much of their allotted 10 minutes bitterly reliving the days when Senator Obama voted against President Bush’s nominees to the bench, John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

“Democratic senators, for example, offer us proof of Judge Sotomayor’s moderation, that she has agreed with her Republican appointed Second Circuit colleagues 95 percent of the time,” Hatch said. “Joined by then-Senator Obama, however, many of those same Democratic senators voted against Justice Samuel Alito’s confirmation, even though he had voted with his Democrat-appointed Third Circuit colleagues 99 percent of the time during a much longer Appeals Court career. And although Justice Alito also received the ABA’s highest rating, Senator Obama joined 24 other Democrats in even voting to filibuster his nomination. And when — and then he joined a total of 42 Democrats in voting against the confirmation of now-Justice Alito. In fact, Senator Obama never voted to confirm a Supreme Court justice. He even voted against a man who administered the oath of presidential office, Chief Justice John Roberts, another distinguished and well-qualified nominee.”

Tomorrow starts the questioning and we’ll see if this GOP schizophrenia continues. Will they go easy on her given the foregone nature of the proceedings thus far? Or will they risk alienating Hispanic voters and put her through the ringer? In the meantime, Salon’s Mike Madden has some fun with the day’s rather dull formalities: for all that, Sotomayor spoke less than seven minutes. And here’s some giggles with the number of times words were mentioned and by which side:

Empathy — 14 mentions all Republican
Filibuster – 3 mentions all Republican in reference to Obama’s past votes on other nominees
Racism – never uttered
Latino/Latina – 9 mentions all by Republican members usually quoting Sotomayor’s remarks back to her
Foreign – 7 mentions all Republican
Blind – 2 Democratic, 4 Republican 

Umpire –5 Democratic, 1 Republican
Ball – 6 Democratic
Strike – 5 Democratic, 1 Republican 

Alito – 2 Democratic, 4 Republican
Roberts — 4 Democratic, 3 Republican
Estrada – 1 Democratic, 3 Republican