WISCONSINREPORT.COM (07/13/2009) - U.S. Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) gave high marks to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor in his opening statement during the first day of confirmation hearings, but wants to know more. Kohl is second in seniority among Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for conducting the hearings as the Senate engages in its Constitutional role to advise and consent on Supreme Court nominations. Kohl told the nominee that the committee needs to know what she thinks about civil rights, privacy, property rights, the separation of church and state, and civil liberties.
"Your nomination is a reflection of who we are as a country and it represents an American success story that we can all be proud of," Senator Kohl said. "Your academic and professional accomplishments - as prosecutor, private practitioner, trial judge and appellate judge - are exemplary. And as a judge, you have brought a richness of experience to the bench and to the judiciary which has been an inspiration for so many."
"Today, we begin a process through which the Senate engages in its Constitutional role to “advise and consent” on your nomination. This week’s hearing is the only opportunity we, and the American people, will have to learn about your judicial philosophy, your temperament, and your motivations before you put on the black robe and are heard from only in your judicial opinions," Kohl continued.
"The President has asked us to entrust you with an immense amount of power. Power which, by design, is free from political constraints, unchecked by the people, and unaccountable to Congress, except in the most extreme circumstances," Senator Kohl said.
"Our democracy, our rights, and everything we hold dear about America are built on the foundation of our Constitution. For more than 200 years, the Court has interpreted the meaning of the Constitution and in doing so guaranteed our most cherished rights."
"The right to equal education regardless of race. The right to an attorney and a fair trial for the accused. The right to personal privacy. The right to speak, vote and worship without interference from the government," Senator Kohl added.
"Should you be confirmed, you and your colleagues will decide the future scope of our rights and the breadth of our freedoms. Your decisions will shape the fabric of American society for years to come," Kohl told Sotomayor.
"That is why it is so important that over the course of the next few days, we gain a good understanding of what is in your heart and your mind," Kohl pointed out.
"We don’t have a right to know in advance how you will rule on cases which will come before you. But we need – and we deserve – to know what you think about fundamental issues such as civil rights, privacy, property rights, the separation of church and state, and civil liberties, to name a few," Senator Kohl explained.
"Some believe that the confirmation process has become thoroughly scripted, and that nominees are far too careful in cloaking their answers to important questions in generalities and with caveats about future cases. I recognize this concern, but I also hope that you recognize our desire to have a frank discussion with you about substantive issues," Kohl continued.
"These are not just concepts for law books. They are issues Americans care about. As crime plagues our communities, we navigate the balance between individual rights and the duty of law enforcement to protect and maintain order," Senator Kohl said.
"As families struggle to make ends meet in these difficult times, we question the permissible role for government in helping get the economy back on track. As we continue to strive for equal rights in our schools and workplaces, we debate the tension between admissions policies and hiring practices that acknowledge diversity and those that attempt to be color-blind," said Kohl.
"These issues invite all Americans to struggle with the dilemmas of democracy and the great questions of our Constitution. If we discuss them with candor, I believe we will have a conversation that the American people will profit from" Senator Kohl said.
"When considering Supreme Court nominees over the years, I have judged each one with a test of judicial excellence."
"First, judicial excellence means the competence, character, and temperament that we expect of a Supreme Court Justice. He or she must have a keen understanding of the law, and the ability to explain it in ways that both the litigants and the American people will understand and respect, even if they disagree with the outcome."
"Second, I look for a nominee to have the sense of values which form the core of our political and economic system. No one, including the President, has the right to require ideological purity from a member of the Supreme Court. But we do have a right to require that the nominee accept both the basic principles of the Constitution and its core values implanted in society."
"Third, we want a nominee with a sense of compassion. This is a quality that I have considered with the last 6 Supreme Court Justices. Compassion does not mean bias or lack of impartiality. It is meant to remind us that the law is more than an intellectual game, and more than a mental exercise."
"A Supreme Court Justice must be able to recognize that real people, with real problems are affected by the decisions rendered by the court. They must have a connection with and an understanding of the problems that people struggle with on a daily basis. Justice, after all, may be blind, but it should not be deaf," Kohl said.
"Your critics are concerned that your background will inappropriately impact your decision-making. But, it is impossible for any of us to remove ourselves from our life story with all of the twists and turns that make us who we are," Senator Kohl stated.
"I hope our process will include a healthy level of balanced and respectful debate and I look forward to the opportunity to learn more about you and what sort of justice you aspire to be," Kohl said.