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Sotomayor hearings: Morning session wrap-up

July 14, 2009 | 10:00 am

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The press corps was promised fireworks at Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court confirmation hearing Tuesday. But the explosions have yet to materialize.

Republicans have, at times, scored points, particularly on Sotomayor's rulings in the New Haven, Conn., firefighters case and in two gun-rights cases, suggesting that perhaps the judge hasn't always been as diligent a jurist as her supporters claim. But the larger GOP narrative -- that Sotomayor is a freewheeling liberal activist poised to rewrite constitutional law -- hasn't quite found traction.

Most of the heat came from an initial testy exchange between Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Sotomayor, in which Sotomayor denied that her infamous "wise Latina" remark indicated that she would be anything less than impartial on the bench. (And Sessions simply seemed to decide to not believe her.) But the episode also gave Sotomayor the opportunity to frame herself as an even-tempered, dispassionate and knowledgeable jurist. And since that point, it's that image that -- so far -- seems to have carried much of the day.

And Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), grilling Sotomayor after Sessions, engaged in a bit of a legalistic ping-pong match involving constitutional standards that, albeit important, fizzled at the end and ended up more as an advisory to Sotomayor to treat gun rights and reverse-discrimination claims with appropriate deference. Buried in the exchange was the implication that Sotomayor had been either an inattentive or result-oriented jurist, but that didn't surface with clarity.

Democrats, on the other hand, worked what could largely be called a four-corners offense, running the clock, and asking Sotomayor's views on a variety of subjects, from property rights, to privacy, to national security. The overall effect is to allow Sotomayor to speak at length in a technical, button-downed fashion that places attention squarely on her record and less on her speeches and statements.

But there is a long afternoon ahead and plenty of time for charges and counter-charges, starting with Republican Sen. Charles E, Grassley of Iowa, who will have his turn after the lunch break.

-- James Oliphant

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Photo: Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor answers a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images

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