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Sotomayor hearings: Steering the debate in opposite directions

July 14, 2009 |  7:41 am

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Give Sonia Sotomayor credit for not backing away from the statements she has made. She spent much of the last half-hour trying to provide the context for her remarks -- especially the notion that, as judge, you have to recognize biases, admit you have them and put them aside in deciding a case.

But Sessions wasn't backing down either. What he heard was that when Sotomayor said she recognized that she may have had life experiences that perhaps create some bias is that she cannot be impartial. Like the lawyers they are (Sessions is a former federal prosecutor), they were both parsing language and finding the meaning they wanted in it. And in many ways, they were talking past each other.

We are going to hear several versions of this exchange today and Wednesday, but it’s possible this is a gulf that cannot be crossed. By admitting that she in effect could have a different point of view as a result of her heritage and background, she may have told Republicans want they wanted to hear, even as she denied that was what she meant.

This is why the Obama White House and Senate Democrats want these hearings to focus on Sotomayor’s lengthy record on the bench, because once it begins to turn on the meaning of specific phrases, subjectivity can overwhelm the process. And what we are going to see over the next two days is a push-pull effort by both sides to steer the debate in their desired direction.

-- James Oliphant

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Photo: Sonia Sotomayor testifies on Capitol Hill. Credit: Gerald Herbert / Associated Press

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