Sonia, the senators talk, you listenFrom now until the gavel falls on the Senate vote on her confirmation to the Supreme Court,
By: Dale McFeatters, The Dickinson Press
From now until the gavel falls on the Senate vote on her confirmation to the Supreme Court, nominee Sonia Sotomayor must keep one thought firmly fixed in her mind: Shut up. Don’t talk. If you must talk, say as little as possible and confine that to banalities and generalities.
So far, Sotomayor has kept tightly to the script. On Tuesday, she started her rounds of “courtesy calls” — it’s sort of like speed dating — visiting 10 senators in a day. The Washington Post reported that she may cut her round of introductions somewhat by a fortuitous encounter with three women senators in the Senate ladies’ room.
She said so little on those rounds that it was news of a sort when she bade one senator goodbye with a “thank you, sir” instead of a simple “thank you.” Sonia, it’s no time to go all wordy on us.
The silence is working. The best the more dedicated Republican opposition can come up with is an eight-year-old remark of hers to the effect that “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
That prompted Newt Gingrich to call her a racist and Rush Limbaugh to add a half-gainer to the insult and call her “a reverse racist.” (For good measure, he also called her a “party hack,” thus insulting half the population of the national capital.) They had hoped she would tie herself in knots trying to explain it, but the judge refused to talk. Remember: Shut up.
Gingrich saw which way the tide was running and apologized. And Limbaugh complained that the Republicans had left him all alone to do “the heavy lifting” of trying to trash Sotomayor.
There are two dangers in a nominee talking. She might say something intemperate, giving the opposition a chance to impugn her character and integrity. Although it’s of no comfort to the shattered nominee, like the man said in “The Godfather,” “It’s nothing personal, it’s business.”
The other danger is that you will talk when a U.S. senator wants to talk and they almost always want to talk. At your hearing, you will be questioned by the senators. Most of them will have “brief” introductory remarks that tend to take up all the time allotted for questions. It is theoretically possible — and on some days even likely — that a nominee may go through her hearing without getting a word in edgewise.
And these are not questions as you and I know questions. A normal question might go, “Judge Sotomayor, please give us your views on original intent.” Not going to happen. Even though the great master of the extended and pointless question is now vice president of the United States, a senatorial question winds around, digresses, makes room for folksy anecdotes, includes a favorable mention or two of the home state, doubles back on itself, praises distinguished colleagues, doubles back on itself again, and ends with the impossible proposition, “And we’d like to get your views on that.”
In the unlikely event that you understood the question, you may well have views on that. Keep them to yourself. For the purposes of the hearing, your view is a fawning recollection of your first encounter with the senator followed by your reverence for the Founding Fathers. You can never have too many Founding Fathers.
Rarely, you might get a direct question about specific cases. Here our excessively litigious society works to your advantage. There is no aspect of American life that is not the subject of a lawsuit in some court somewhere, and, of course, you couldn’t possibly comment on pending litigation.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, for whatever reason, gave a candid answer on why he wants a quick and straightforward hearing. Noting that Sotomayor had written hundreds and hundreds of opinions, he said, “I haven’t read a single one of them, and if I’m fortunate, before we end this, I won’t have to read one of them.”
— McFeatters writes for Scripps Howard News Service.