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Sotomayor hearings: Jon Kyl presses the Supreme Court nominee on judicial precedent

July 16, 2009 |  7:22 am


Sonia Sotomayor’s fourth day before the Senate Judiciary Committee has begun, and the New York judge and a Republican senator quickly were at loggerheads over the well-known case of white firefighters who accused the city of New Haven, Conn., of discrimination.

Before he began his pointed questioning, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) joked about the balky heating-cooling system in the hearing room at the Hart Senate Office Building.

Apparently, it’s too cold back in the press gallery — coincidence? -- and too toasty at the witness table, where Sotomayor has been sitting for four days. If there are any questions about Sotomayor’s stamina in a very hot room, Kyl said, that’s been answered.

He then proceeded — politely -- to raise the temperature himself.

Kyl took up Ricci vs. New Haven, a case in which Sotomayor, as part of a three-judge panel, ruled against the white firefighters who alleged discrimination because they were denied promotions even though they had higher test scores than African American colleagues. The Supreme Court recently overruled that decision.

Sotomayor has said repeatedly that her decision was based on judicial precedent. Kyl said the high court’s 5-4 majority said there was no such precedent, either from the Supreme Court or from the 2nd Circuit Court, where Sotomayor is a judge. He pressed her to cite the precedent.

Her roundabout and technical answers — she never quite got to a firm conclusion — left him unsatisfied, and Kyl pressed her again and again:

“Judge, I have to interrupt you there ... ”

“Fine and dandy, but answer my question ... ”

“I’m still baffled on what precedent you’re speaking of ... ”

In essence, her explanation was this: The Supreme Court was addressing an issue raised by lawyers that was different from the one the appellate panel considered.

Thus, the different views on precedent.

She got a more welcoming reception from the second senator to question her today, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California. Feinstein called her a “walking, talking example” of what’s best about America.

Over the last two days, each senator has had 30 minutes to question President Obama’s first nominee to the Supreme Court. The senators now have up to 20 minutes for additional questions. It’s expected that the questioning of Sotomayor will end today and that witnesses — both pro and con — will begin testifying before the committee.

-- Steve Padilla

Photo: Senator Jon Kyl, a Republican from Arizona, questions Sonia Sotomayor at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C. Credit: Brendan Smialowski / Bloomberg

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