Sessions Sets the Tone for Fireworks

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Posted: Jul 13, 2009 11:23 AM

Guest blog post by Brian Darling on the Sotomayor hearings

Senator Jeff Sessions is opening the Republican side of the Senate Judiciary Committee battle on the Sotomayor nomination with some strong fighting words.  This is Sessions first high profile hearing as Ranking Member and Sessions has delivered a strong statement explaining the differences between a conservative and liberal view of the proper role of a federal judge.  Sessions says that the “empathy standard is another step down the road” to judicial activism.  Sessions worries that liberal activist judicial philosophy will lead to an America where “constitutional limits are ignored” and talked of a “fork in the road” of judicial philosophy.  Sessions worries that Sotomayor may take the wrong judicial road and push a more political role for judges. 

In a statement building on the argument that a judge needs to be neutral and not swayed by personal biases or experiences, Sessions pledged that “I will not vote for, and no Senator should vote for, any nominee who” is not fair.  Senator Sessions repeated that if a nominee exhibits a judicial philosophy that favors one side, that will be a “disqualifying” factor in this nomination.  Sessions line in the sand is strong.  A nominee may be qualified through experience and education, but may disqualify themselves if they are “not neutral” and “favor one team over another.”  Sessions blasted the empathy standard and stated that “sympathy is not law, it is more akin to politics.”  Sotomayor clearly will have to explain the now famous “wise Latina” comment and try to convince skeptical Republicans that she does not employ a selective empathy standard.

The opening statements of Chairman Leahy and Ranking Member Sessions have set the table for the tone of the debate over the next few days.  Sessions has marked a line in the sand and his tone was much more direct than Leahy.  Expect some fireworks over the next few days in this hearing.  Republicans asking tough questions about Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy and the Democrats playing defense and stressing her compelling personal story. 

Brian Darling is the Director of Senate Relations for the Heritage Foundation.