News Column

Sotomayor's Fate Partly in Hands of Jeff Sessions, a Senator With Rep for Racial Insensitivity

July 14, 2009


Sonia Sotomayor, jeff sessions, supreme court

In a strange irony, the fate of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor will be determined in part by a man whose own confirmation hearing was derailed over comments he made about the Ku Klux Klan.

Twenty-three years ago, Jeff Sessions (R-Ala), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee conducting the hearing -- and a staunch critic of Sotomayor -- faced the very same committee in 1986, after President Reagan nominated him to a federal judge position.

Sessions was a tough-on-crime attorney who had made a name for himself through his prosecution of drug dealers at a time when the war on drugs was in full tilt.

But Sessions, who today grilled Sotomayor about her oft-quoted "wise Latina woman" speech, found himself on the hot seat for his attitudes on race.

Sessions had reportedly said he was OK with the KKK until he learned some of the members were "pot smokers."

In addition, during Sessions' confirmation hearing, Justice Department lawyers testified that he had said that the NAACP and ACLU were communist-inspired because they tried to "force civil rights down the throats of people."

Sessions claimed that the comments were made in jest, but his nomination was nonetheless blocked in a 9-9 vote. At the time, he was only the second federal judicial nominee to be rejected by the committee in 48 years.

On Tuesday, Sessions interrogated Sotomayor for her 2001 statement that a "wise Latina woman" might be in a position to make better judgements than a white male.

Sotomayor acknowledged that the comment "fell flat."

During the hearing, she insisted that her heritage will in no way interfere with her ability to issue sound rulings.

"I want to state up front, unequivocally and without doubt, I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging," Sotomayor said. "I do believe that every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge regardless of their background or life experiences."

Sessions, however, remained unconvinced.

"I think it's consistent in the comments I've quoted to you and your previous statements that you do believe that your backgrounds will affect the result in cases, and that's troubling me," he said.

Source: (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

Story Tools Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters