Senators Leahy and Grassley on Sotomayor Hearings

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - July 15, 2009

JIM LEHRER: And now for their take on Judge Sotomayor's testimony so far, two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee: the Democratic chairman, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

First, Senator Leahy, I assume you still personally favor the confirmation of Judge Sotomayor?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), Vermont: I do. The Supreme Court's going to come in for an extraordinary hearing, a very unusual hearing in September. She will be on the Supreme Court when they come in.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Grassley, where do you stand right now?

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), Iowa: Well, I stand where I stand on most nominees. I wait until the hearing is over. Otherwise, there's no point in participating in a hearing if you've already got your mind made up.

And I'm not criticizing Senator Leahy for his saying that he would vote for her, but I think I have a responsibility to review the whole record. We still have two other panels that are going to present. I don't expect them to distract very much, if at all, from her hearings, but I think we ought to review the whole record. And we'll probably have a week or 10 days to do that before she comes up on the floor or even before our committee.

JIM LEHRER: Have you heard anything -- yes, go ahead.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I was going to say, I'd agree with Chuck Grassley that we should review her whole record, but here's a woman who's been involved in 3,000 cases. She's had more extensive record, both as a trial judge and a court of appeals judge, than any nominee, Democratic or Republican, for over 50 years.

That's where her record is. And all that's been available to every single senator to read. So far, those 3,000 cases, I think she's only been asked about a dozen or so, and over and over and over again.

I've read the cases. I've listened to her answers in those dozen or so cases she's been questioned about. As a lawyer, I have a pretty easy job making up my mind.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: Can I add to what he said?

JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: Just in case I left an impression of her qualifications to be on the Supreme Court, the academic ones, her career on the court for over a decade, her being a prosecutor and a private-sector lawyer, I don't think anybody's raised any questions about her qualifications.

There's been distraction from her legal jurisprudence by speeches she's given that have raised some concerns. The president raised some of these concerns initially among some of us because of the word "empathy."

And, quite frankly, all we're trying to do is satisfy ourselves that, as a justice, she's not going to be making decisions as an activist judge based upon these speeches, but upon the precedent that the court set or to what extent would she change precedent.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: I think she -- right out of the gate, in her opening speech, where she said about fidelity to the law, I think that ought to satisfy a lot of people. She's backed that up.

You know, it's obviously going to leave some questions in people's minds -- maybe to some extent, mine -- whether or not this is a -- you know, a conversion at the last minute, pandering to the Senate.

If she's an intellectually honest woman -- and I don't have any reason to believe she's not -- you know, then these are all satisfying things at this point.

And you asked me, have I had minds changed? Over the course of meeting her privately, in my office, over the course of this hearing, I can say that she's a lot different than the attitude -- and positively so -- a lot different than the attitude you have from reading her statements in the abstract or hearing other people comment on those.

JIM LEHRER: And, Senator Leahy, I assume, then, that what you have heard has just made your feelings -- your positive feelings about her even stronger. Is that correct?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: It's made the feelings even stronger. We've heard a lot of outside people. We've heard one of their leaders in the Republican Party call her the equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan, another called her a bigot. To the credit of the Republican senators, none of them have used those terms. I think they know those are way out of the ballpark.

So I have a rule. I will not meet with pressure groups of either the right or the left when we have a Supreme Court nominee. I make up my mind based on what I've read about them and what I hear in the meeting.

I took all her major cases with me to Vermont during the Fourth of July. I've read them at my home there. I've studied them. I've talked with her at length on several occasions. That's what I make my mind up on.

You, Senator Grassley, you and your fellow Republicans have either declared questions, serious questions, and it's been strictly by party. Is that what's going on here, Senator Leahy, this is a division of party rather than about any legal issue?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Well, I think that the -- as I said, a couple of the leaders of the Republican Party said right almost from the very first day that she was going to...

JIM LEHRER: No, I mean the Senate. I'm talking about the Senate.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: No, no. But I think it influenced some of this, and I think a lot of people feel they've got to respond to that.

But I haven't found anything wrong in the questions that have been asked, whether by Senator Grassley or anybody else. I think some of them have been asked several times, but I have no problem with the questions the Republicans have asked.

Democrats have asked some very specific questions on antitrust, on what kind of respect should be given to laws written by Congress.

But, yes, I think a lot of us have looked at her record. We see this as a good, mainstream judge. As a former prosecutor, I looked at her record as a prosecutor, too. I don't have a problem with her.

But I think the questions have been asked. They were able to ask those questions. They were tough questions. And I will predict that a number of Republicans will vote for her when the matter comes to a vote.

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