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Sotomayor hearings: Specter pushes for answers on court workload

July 15, 2009 | 11:44 am

Sen. Arlen Specter, a newly declared Democrat from Pennsylvania, opened the afternoon session. As he mentioned in his initial statement on Monday, Specter said he wanted to talk about the productivity of the court, which, over the decades, if not the centuries, has seriously reduced the number of cases it hears.

“During his confirmation hearings, Chief Justice Roberts said, quote, ‘The court could contribute to the clarity and uniformity of the law by taking more cases.’ Judge Sotomayor, do you agree with that statement?”

Sotomayor barely got her answer out: “What Chief Justice Robers is saying is the court needs to think about its processes.”

“Judge Sotomayor,” Specter interrupted. “What about more cases?”

“I don’t like making statements about what the court can do until I've experienced the process.”

Specter changed the subject, as he would do often when Sotomayor seemed to indicate she would not be answering a question as fully.... he wished.

As a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he indicated he was miffed that the Bush administration had not informed him — as he believed was required by law — about certain surveillance programs that were disclosed by the New York Times. A federal district court in Detroit, he said, found the terrorist surveillance program unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court refused to take up the case.

“I wrote you letters about this and gave you advance notice that I would ask about this case,” said Specter. “I am not asking how you would decide this case, but wouldn’t you agree” the Supreme Court should have taken up the case?

Sotomayor tried to placate a clearly irritated elder statesman: “I know it must be very frustrating to you.”

“It sure is,” interjected Specter. “I was the chairman who wasn’t notified.”

“I can understand your frustration,” said Sotomayor, but she said she wouldn't answer his question because it’s an issue that could come before her as a Supreme Court justice. “I am not asking you to prejudge,” said Specter. “I am asking you what your standards are for taking a case. How can it possibly be justified not to take that case?”

She did mull over the issue, said Sotomayor, but ...

“I can tell you are not gonna answer, so let me move on."

-- Robin Abcarian

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