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Sotomayor hearings: Sen. Feingold asks about Bush administration's post-9/11 security policies

July 14, 2009 | 12:15 pm

Gold Judge Sonia Sotomayor complimented Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold when he told her that Americans would like to be able to “watch you in the comfort of their own living rooms for years to come.”

“You were a very good lawyer, weren’t you, Senator?” she replied.

Feingold engaged Sotomayor in a discussion about 9/11 and whether she agreed with him that “the events of that day … were sometimes used to justify policies that depart so far from what America stands for.” He said he was asking her a question that he asked now-Chief Justice John Roberts during his Senate hearing: “Did that day change your view of civil rights and liberties and how they can be protected?”

This gave Sotomayor the opportunity to talk about where she was on that dreadful day and her belief in the enduring strength of the Constitution:

 “Sept. 11 was a horrific tragedy. I was in New York. My home is close to the World Trade Center. ... My neighborhood was used as a staging area for rescue trucks. The consequences of that great tragedy are the subject of continuing discussion among, not just senators, but the whole nation.  In the end, the Constitution by its terms, protects certain individual rights.

That protection is often fact specific – many of its terms are very broad – so what is an unreasonable search and seizure? But, in answer to your specific question, did it change my view of the Constitution? No sir. The Constitution is a timeless document, it was intended to guide us through decades, generation after generation. ... It has protected us as a nation. It has inspired our survival. That doesn’t change.”

But, asked Feingold, are there any element’s of “our government’s response to 9/11 that you think our nation will look back at with regret?”

Nice try, Senator.

“I am a historian by undergraduate training,” she replied. “I also love history books. It’s amazing how difficult it is to make judgments about one’s current position. That’s because history permits us to look back and examine the actual consequences that have arisen, and then judgments are made. “

She would not give her opinion of recent cases in which the Supreme Court has struck down Bush-era policies about imprisonment of suspected terrorists.

“Is it fair to say,” asked Feingold, “that at least with respect to the Supreme Court, mistakes were made?”

A grin crossed her face.

“I smiled,” said Sotmayor, “only because that’s not the way judges look at that issue. We don’t decide whether mistakes were made. We look at whether action was consistent with Constitutional or statutory limitations.”

“And in each of those cases, there was a problem, right?” he asked.

“Yes,” Sotomayor replied.

Photo: Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., looks on during the committee's confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

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