CourtSide - The FindLaw Breaking Legal News Blog

Day Three: Humor Makes a Cameo at the Sotomayor Hearings

Maybe everyone was a little punch-drunk from the previous two days of the hearings, or maybe the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee came to a grim realization that they weren't going to get any gaffes or meltdowns from Sonia Sotomayor during this round of questioning, but there was definitely a more casual air during today's morning session of the confirmation hearings

That's not to say that there wasn't some tough questioning of the judge.  Republicans John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma had some incisive interrogatories for Sotomayor.  Even Arlen Specter (D - PA) gave the judge a hard time later on in the afternoon session, expressing frustration with her ability to avoid the tough questions.
As in yesterday's hearing, Sotomayor deftly sidestepped the political thrusts of both Democrat and Republican questions alike, relying heavily on the time-honored tradition of Supreme Court nominees reserving statement on an issue that might come before the Court.  She recited a lot of Supreme Court precedent as well, which gave her an opportunity to showcase her knowledge of constitutional law and legal process at the same time that it befuddled the Senators, who weren't used to a discussion of constitutional jurisprudence that hadn't already been reduced to political talking points.

It was during one of these moments, after Coburn asked Sotomayor about her opinion as to whether there is a constitutional right to self-defense (which the senator was trying to link to his previous questions about the 2nd Amendment), that one of the more funny and surreal moments of the hearings thus far occurred.

Sotomayor again avoided making any direct statements on her constitutional beliefs, instead pointing out that state law generally governed self-defense.  She then began a hypothetical situation involving New York law that involved a threat from Senator Coburn, and her going back to her home to get a gun and to shoot the Senator with. 

In the middle of this hypothetical, Sotomayor broke off and reassured the audience and the senators that she wasn't actually going to put a cap in Senator Tom Coburn, and that the whole thing was a thought exercise.

At that point, Coburn said that, if, in her hypothetical, Sotomayor did come back and shoot him, she would "have lots of 'splainin' to do."  If interpreted generously, this is a somewhat insensitive reference to Cuban Ricky Ricardo from the "I Love Lucy" show, who used that catch phrase whenever his ditzy wife Lucy would get into one of her usual misadventures. 

Interpreted in another light, the remark was a dig at the woman who's up to be the first Latino member of the Supreme Court.  I might lean toward this interpretation since Coburn had been a little combative in his questioning, but it was probably just Coburn using an abbreviation of a word without any intended meaning behind it.

Another strange and humourous encounter happened between Judge Sotomayor and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).  Actually, the period for Klobuchar's questions had several funny moments - some intended, some not. 

The senator opened her questions with a statement about meeting Sotomayor's mother in the restroom, and how the senior Sotomayor had many interesting stories to tell about the nominee.  "Don't even get her started," Sotomayor replied, at which point Klobuchar began describing her own mother.  Sotomayor then suggested, somewhat tongue-in-cheek to my ear, that they should get their mothers together.

At the end of the questions, Klobuchar also took some time to point out that a member of the Minnesota Twins drove home the winning run for the American League in last night's All Star Game.  Sotomayor is a well-known Yankee's fan, and admitted to watching a little bit of the game.  Off-mic, Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D - VT) chimed in that "I'm resisting any Red Sox comments."

Sotomayor also at one point had to tell the Committee that "I'm not an expert in growing marijuana," and at another explained how an episode of Perry Mason had shaped her philosophy as a prosecutor.

Sotomayor's performance during the morning session had an altogether more relaxed and confident tone that yesterday's.  It's almost as if she's realized that her confirmation is pretty much a done deal, and the Republicans can only get so far with their "wise latina" obsession.

Let's see if they can come up with anything else for the next round of questions.

See Also:
Sonia Sotomayor Day 3: How Many More Questions Could They Possibly Have? (Above the Law)
Republicans Say Sotomayor Isn't Sufficiently Forthcoming -- And That's Probably Deliberate (WSJ Law Blog)
Sotomayor thrown a curve at confirmation hearing (AP)
Senator Ricky Ricardo? Coburn evokes Lucy show (AP)
Specter frustrated by nominee (AP)