Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sotomayor confirmation hearings start Monday

Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings start Monday.

Since Judge Sotomayor was nominated for the Supreme Court, a number of things have happened: Iranian elections and their aftermath; Governor Sanford's meltdown and his Buenos Aires trips; Al Franken declared a Senator; Michael Jackson's death and the following media circus; Governor Palin going fishing.

More than two decades ago, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee as a nominee for a district court judgeship in Alabama and was rejected by the panel over charges of racial insensitivity.

Some name: Jefferson, one presumes, after Jeff Davis (himself accorded the third President's surname), and Beauregard after PGT Beauregard.

Next week, Senator Jeff Sessions, as he is now known, will play a major role as the ranking Republican on the same committee as it considers the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. And one of the themes of the confirmation hearings, with Mr. Sessions now on the other side of the process, will be racial and ethnic preferences.

Racial insensitivity, two decades ago? 1980s? Reagan.

The 12 Democrats on the committee include Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, who was sworn into office on Tuesday. He is not a lawyer — all but 5 of the committee’s 19 members are — but in his previous life as a comedian he once played Senator Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois, in a “Saturday Night Live” skit about the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in 1991.

Well, that should be enough to inform Franken, no?

Mr. Sessions brings to his role a background that sounds as if it were concocted for a television drama: after his 1986 humiliation, he left his post as a federal prosecutor, entered elective politics and succeeded Senator Howell Heflin, the venerable Alabama Democrat whose opposition to his nomination proved crucial. At the time, Mr. Sessions was depicted before the committee as a throwback to the Jim Crow South because of some purported racially insensitive remarks and his decision to prosecute three black voting-rights advocates who were acquitted at trial.

Mr. Sessions, who heatedly disputed any implication of racism, has insisted in interviews that he carries no grudge from those days and has said that, if anything, his experience has given him empathy with nominees.

Empathy? Interesting word; the President used it. Should be good theatre.

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