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Sotomayor hearings: Talk about judicial restraint

Coburn Imagine for a moment you are Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

In your New York courtroom, you are lord and master -- and you can speak anytime you wish and interrupt lawyers at will.

Now, imagine having to sit here in Hart 216 for -- now, it's going on two hours -- not being able to respond when senators criticize or attack your record, as they question your judgment, your neutrality, your view of the law. It must be odd.

Sotomayor will get her chance, of course. For days. But it's not an easy thing for anyone trained in argument, as Sotomayor is, to sit quietly and simply take it.

Take Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) who, without explicitly saying it, does not seem to believe Sotomayor can be a neutral judge. "The thing that binds us together is an innate trust that you can have fair and impartial judgment in this country." he said. "I am concerned with some of your statements. I don't know if the statements were made to be provocative or truly heartfelt for what you have said."

"Your judicial philosophy might be inconsistent with a partial neutral arbiter," said Coburn, who is unlikely to vote for Sotomayor regardless. "You must prove to the Senate you will adhere to the proper role of a judge."

Sotomayor will get to respond -- soon. But first, just a few more senators to go.

-- James Oliphant

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Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 13, 2009, during the committee's confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

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Will there ever be a day when the LA Times writers don't show their political bias? Are there any non democratic reporters for the Times or is that a requirement?

While we're talking about the court's constitutional role, we should consider where these Senate hearings fit into our constitutional design. Specifically, why aren't these hearings in front of a House Committee - the body of The People? The Framers originally created the U.S. Senate to represent the sovereign, democratically elected state governments and their interests. The Framers knew that if the Senate was constituted in this fashion, that body would confirm only those jurists who upheld the original intent of the constitution: limited, temperate government, and justice (not "fairness") under the law for each citizen.

The 17th Amendment changed this. Now that a U.S. Senator has exactly the same constituency as a Representative to the U.S. House ("The People"), the judicial confirmation process we are witnessing today in the Senate is part of the mob rule that the Framers had every intention of preventing through constitutional structure. This circus is exactly the government we get now that the rules have changed.

Repeal the 17th Amendment and restore the original design of the Framers.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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