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Interview with Senator Jeff Sessions

Interview with Senator Jeff Sessions

By The Situation Room - June 2, 2009

BLITZER: Judge Sotomayor was on Capitol Hill today, meeting with some of the senators who will be judging her qualifications and will be deciding whether she should be on the highest court.

Among them, Alabama's Jeff Sessions.

He's the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

He's joining us.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Hello.

BLITZER: Senator Sessions, thanks very much for coming in.

SESSIONS: Thank you.

Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I take it today was the first time you had a chance to sit down with her face-to-face.

And what did you think?

SESSIONS: Well, I enjoyed it. She was engaging and talkative. And we had a good conversation. It was fun. We talked a little bit about -- mostly, I guess, about her record.

She was a young prosecutor for a number of years. She was in private practice. Then she served as a trial judge and as an appellate judge now. So that's a good background, I have to say. It's the kind of thing that gives her a lot of experience in the kind of issues she'll be facing on the court.

BLITZER: Is -- based on what you know right now, is she ready for the major leagues?

Is she -- is she ready to sit on the highest court in the land?

SESSIONS: Well, she's, I think, intellectually capable. I guess the question is, you know, sort of spinning off President Obama's statement that judges should show empathy. He voted against John Roberts and Sam Alito, saying that they didn't rule enough for little people or whatever -- that kind of statement.

So I think we need to make sure that she's committed to faithfully following the law, that she has those legal skills and abilities, give an opportunity for any questions about her character to arise. I've seen none yet.

So I think we need to go through this process because, once confirmed, a judge is given a lifetime appointment. We need to know that they have discipline and restraint and will show themselves, over the decades to come, as a person who is faithful to be subordinate to the law and not to place themselves above the law. It will be a good...

BLITZER: On that (INAUDIBLE)...

SESSIONS: ...a good time to discuss the role of a judge in the American experience. And I think it could be a teaching moment for the people.

BLITZER: I think you're right. I think a lot of us will be watching. We'll be glued to our TV sets. There's no doubt about that. And you'll be -- you'll be there every step of the way.

Listen to what the chairman, Patrick Leahy, said today after he met with her on this whole uproar that has developed as a result of her saying several years ago that a Latina woman might be better suited to make a controversial decision than a white man.

Listen to how he phrased it, Senator Leahy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: What she said was, of course one's life experience shapes who you are. But ultimately and completely -- and she used those words -- ultimately and completely, as a judge, you follow the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Did she say the same thing to you?

SESSIONS: Well, something to that effect, yes. But let me tell you, what is the law to a judge who has an activist bent or a judge that has a -- more a result-oriented bent or a judge who allows their empathy to impact their decision, is -- that's how a judge finds a way to interpret the law to be somewhat different than maybe it was intended and is the way it's really written.

So those are the questions I think we'll need to analyze. That article she wrote -- the speech and then printed in an article -- was troubling in more than just that one line. It seemed to say that it was a hopeless aspiration to attempt to be unbiased and that, indeed, everybody brings biases to the bench and that in some, maybe even most cases, those personal values could impact the decision-making.

I don't think that's the ideal of American justice. But I do think she deserves a full chance to discuss that and to explain her views. And so that's kind of some of the things we'll be talking about, I think, at the hearing, because those are important issues that go to the quality of a lifetime appointment.

BLITZER: A lot of us remember one of the reasons you may be in the Senate right now is what happened to you when your name was put forward for the federal bench. And you were not necessarily treated all that well, I guess, and eventually they had to withdraw your name.

But let me -- let me phrase the question this way -- are you empathetic, which is a popular word nowadays, are you empathetic to what this woman is about to go through?

SESSIONS: Politicians are supposed to be empathetic. And, yes, I am, actually. I do feel that it's difficult sometimes for a nominee to be able to explain their views. Sometimes a ruling of a judge or an action of a prosecutor is complex and requires a little time to explain.. And, oftentimes, in this fast paced world, they don't get it.

And I've told her again today, she was going to get a fair chance and a fair hearing.

BLITZER: We're out of time.

But you want these hearings in September, not July, is that right?

SESSIONS: Well, it's an important thing. It's a lifetime appointment. We've got over 4,000 cases to look at. Justice Souter is not leaving until October 5th, so we could actually -- we could certainly -- I think we need the time and shouldn't rush it.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Senator Sessions.

Good luck with these hearings.

SESSIONS: Thank you.

 

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