July 19th, 2009
07:41 PM ET
14 years ago

Leahy on Sotomayor: 'Stop the racial politics'

WASHINGTON (CNN) – The Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Sunday that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor should be judged on the merits of her 17-year judicial record and the week of confirmation hearings that just ended rather than on suspicions about her racial allegiances.

“You had one leader of the Republican Party call her the equivalent to the head of the Klu Klux Klan,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy said on CNN’s State of the Union. “Another leader of the Republican Party called her a bigot,” Leahy added, later explaining that he was making reference to comments by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

After Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Ranking Republican on the committee, referred to Sotomayor’s past involvement in the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, Leahy again suggested that some Republicans were being unfairly critical of Sotomayor.

“I hope we don’t go back to the day when we used to have African-Americans up for confirmation and say ‘Yes, but you belong to the NAACP so, you know, we’re really suspicious of you,’” Leahy said CNN’s State of the Union.

“C’mon, stop the racial politics,” Leahy added.

Leahy remarks drew an immediate response from Sessions.

“Oh, c’mon, Pat. I’m going to disagree on that,” Sessions said.

“No but that’s the way it comes across . . . It comes across - if you belong to a group that tries to help Hispanics, help them in school, help them in other things, somehow you’re suspicious. The same arguments were used against Thurgood Marshall and others. I think it’s wrong,” Leahy said.

“I want to correct something,” interrupted Sessions. “No Republican leader said she was a bigot. You’ve overstated that. There’s nothing wrong with us asking her about the personal views about positions – legal positions – that she took as the member of an organization. That’s a normal thing to do. I don’t think that was unfair.”

soundoff (301 Responses)
  1. Len

    Senator Leahy is correct. From day one, some Repulicans have made racist remarks. Including: Ginrich and of course, Rush Limbaugh.

    She is a good person and we have to stop this racial madness.

    July 19, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  2. Tatianna

    IMHO, Obama played the race card all the way to the White House, while dishonestly claiming McCain pulled race card. The dems playbook has always been whatever you do blame the other party first and your good to go. This is true of racism. Dems will try to stifle debate by branding you the scarlet letter R (racist) if you question, oppose or criticize a minority, Minorities have been exploited and subjugated by the left.

    July 19, 2009 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  3. Nick

    agree with this article. the only reason GOP losing their ground is b/c too many Jeff Sessions in GOP. his nuts senator i have seen in my life. he need to change his tune from 70's politics. its 21 century were diverse america then ever before.

    July 19, 2009 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  4. pearper

    Go die dinosaur right wingers.

    July 19, 2009 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  5. joe magarzatz

    Sessions? Whadday expect–he's an unreconstructed white "sutherner red neck" who would be embarassment outside of AL but reflects his voting constituency well. Any idea of where AL stands in educational level for voters?

    July 19, 2009 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  6. Richard Rodriguez

    I believe that all, all amrericans should unite behind the Healthcare overhaul program proposed by Pres. Barack Obama. It is very clear that those who like what they have, they will keep it and for those who do not have have the opportunity to purchase one that would bring the costs down, I can not see why it is so difficult to undestand. All constituents should get a hold of their representatives and push them to help approve this healtcare reform, for the benefit of all and not just a few. The Americans are lagging behind the rest of the world as far as healthe care is concern and equality for "ALL" its citizens, specially the poor. the underprivilage, these are the great masses. Rise your voices as one and demand that this health care reform be approve in Congress as well as the Senate, if not bypartisan, well, partisan, let be approved and have it on the Presidents desk bafore the middle of august, period.

    July 19, 2009 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  7. miker

    The Democrats are the most racist people,its the attack and deflect all over again. Its Democrats first, what you say and do does not matter, Vote Democrat-Vote Democrat- Vote Democrat. The blacks, and hispanic will be far better off voting Republicans. At least your stimlus check will come in the form of a check to you! Not a payoff to the rich corporate elites. How much money did YOU get from the last one? Vote Republican and stay free!

    July 19, 2009 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  8. JK Ashburn, VA

    Stop the racial politics? She was picked because she is Latino and Obama wanted to pander to the Hispanic community. As her record proves, she is a qualified judge but certainly not the most qualified judge in the land. So, who started it, Leahy?

    July 19, 2009 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  9. Jerry

    Yes, I'm from Alabama, and yes, it's a conservative state, and yes, much of the time Sessions represents this state just the way he was elected to do. It would be illogical to expect him to suddenly change his stripes. However, it's been an embarrassment to watch him be the point man for the anti-Obama camp on this appointment. No doubt the fact that his seat is perfectly safe and he's not going to catch a lot of flak back home makes him an ideal mouthpiece for the hard right. But Sotomayor is eminently qualified for this job and while probably liberal, is obviously no wild-eyed radical. Sessions is only hurting himself; he should have passed this job off to someone else. With the economy, health care, the war, the stimulus packages, etc, there are plenty of opportunities for the GOP to play opposition party. Republicans need to choose their battles wisely, and this wasn't a wise choice.

    July 19, 2009 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  10. mhm

    Mike in Syracuse:
    When her record includes obviously racially motivated decisions (ie the New Haven firefighter case) it is certainly a valid line of questioning.

    You obviously have not done any research for yourself. She actually followed Supreme Court precedent in ruling the way she did. Then the Supreme Court overruled their previous decisions and set NEW precedent. How was she supposed to know the Supreme Court was going to overrule their previous decisions on that matter of law? If she had ruled any other way she would have not been following previous established precedent and been called a judicial activist for not following the Supreme Court. I'm sure you're not a lawyer but at the very least you could learn this for yourself instead of just regurgitating things you've "heard."

    July 19, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  11. Adam


    Before you stated that Sonia Sotomayor will be confirmed, I feared she wasn't. Thanks for clearing that up.

    OF COURSE she's gonna be confirmed the Democrats have the power to confirm her without a single Republican vote (which she is going to get by the way). This everyone knew from the moment she was nominated.

    The Republicans emerged as the winners. The Democrat's ignorant assumptions, including thinking that Republicans would tear her apart in the hearings, backfired on them. They gave her a more fear hearing than the Democrats did with Roberts and Alito. Sotomayor could have even stated that she will let personal views change her vote and still get confirmed, but the Republicans even got her to clearify and change what she said.

    So Democrats, with the failed attempt to damage the Republicans with the hearing, plus with all the continuing out-of-control spending that is adding even more to our nation's debt, the Democrats will see a backfire sooner or later, and the Republicans will emerge once again. My only hope is that Sarah Palin won't be our leader (she's not all that bright).

    July 19, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  12. A Southern Lady

    After listening to Sessions of Alabama, Lindsey Graham of S.C. and Mitch McConnell of Ky during the Sotomayor hearings, it makes me ashamed to be a Southernor. All three of these senators behaved shamefully towards Judge Sotomayor. It is my sincere hope that the wives, sisters and daughters of these three "gentlemen" take them to task for their insufferable behavior. Shame – shame.

    July 19, 2009 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  13. German,Irish American

    How about the Democrats fillibustering Miguel Estrada because they didn't want a Bush appointed Hispanic to the circuit court? The racist Democrat Party gets a pass when they blantley use racism to block a conservative appointee, then nominate a racist for supreme court.

    July 19, 2009 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  14. renea

    When it comes to racism we all knows it still exist and the republicans know it well just recently another racist comment from young republicans were made against President Obama and just like before another republicans came back and apoligize for it, Say what you want thats one reason there is so much divide in washington over the presidents agenda the republicans can hide it from some and even some times but whats in the heart is going to show sooner or later, And with sotomayor the only main reason she will be confirm as far as the republicans are concern is because they wont more votes from Latinos in the 2010 and 2012 elections.

    July 19, 2009 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  15. marty-Licoln, NE

    Sen. Jeff Sessions 's comment stating that had "Judge Sonia Sotomayor had vote with another judge who was also Latino regarding the firemen reverse discrimination case, then the out come would have been different. This comment actully shows Sessions is" just too stupid and biggoted to come up with any solutions" and he should have excused himself from the confirmation hearing. That satement from him was racist. He was implying Judge Sonia Sotomayor should have vote the same way that the other Latino judge voted instead adhearing to the law.

    Judge Sonia Sotomayor, will be an excellent asset to the Supreme Court.

    July 19, 2009 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  16. jaye

    The republicans are racist. Period!
    When will Americans realize that republicans are racist? And their fearless leaders (hannity, o'reilly, limbaugh, and the crew at fux news) lead the pack.

    July 19, 2009 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  17. Brian

    Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III

    the name says it all

    July 19, 2009 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  18. John Black Hills/SD

    Conservative republicans are the scum of the earth, when they're not having sex with men in airport men's room, they're talking about the fault's of everyone who doesn't know the special handshake or job in this case. Sotomayor will be approved, she's earned the job.

    July 19, 2009 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  19. bobbdobbs

    Obama picked her for ethnic/racial/gender reasons.

    July 19, 2009 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  20. Tuna, Independent In Ohio

    At a time when you would think that Republicans would be looking for votes, everytime they open there mouth they drive me more towards the Democrats. They have no platform and no new ideas on how to solve our problems in this country. They are creating racial barriers at a time when we need to bring these barriers down.

    July 19, 2009 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  21. jerrywayne

    I am a Southerner by birth and it was totally embrassing to hear these elected officials of the Republican Party using the racist language and overtones during the hearings. I still beleive the racism is alive and well especially in the South–the time has come to abolish it AGAIN!
    The voter can make these changes–so why don't they? These old southern guys with their prejudices need to go.

    July 19, 2009 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  22. Richard Rodriguez

    I would like to know the machanics of withdrawing something you already said. How can you say you did not say what you already said? Is there someking of equivalent of an eraser in the brain that can achieve that? Or can you take away or erase, say a slap in the face to someone and say, " I am sorry I take that back", I like to know how in hell can you ever do that. My parents taught me that the best word is, that one that you don't utter. Newt Gingrich, said what he said 'cause he meant it, he's always been a racist, he is from the south, and what can you expect, of course I apologize to those who aren't, as I cannot suggest that all southerners are bigots, but a great mayority are, no doubt. This is reflected on people like Sessions, Jim Bunning, Mich, McConnell, Michael Steel, Tom Haschel, Pat Buchannan, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs. John Bennet, Bill Ryelly, Sarah Palin, including the American Hero John McCain, the unborn in American soil, American. He was born in PANAMA, AND THIS IS NOT AMRICAN SOIL, AS OPPOSED TO HAWAII, A STATE OF THE UNION. To those that question the presidents born place. He was born in the State of Hawaii, the 49th State of the Union. No way Panama's McCain,

    July 19, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  23. Jane

    I am tired of the race card being played when it is in the best interest of whoever it will benefit. Race relations are worse now than ever and it is not because of the Republicans. It is because of the ignorant people who listen to the media and think they are the only truth around and those who take ignorant politicians at face value. I is especially disturbing that people spew venom about other people and lump them into one specific category. All southern people and republicans are not "dumb racist rednecks"; just as people from New York, New Jersey, and California are not shallow and ignorant of how the rest of the country lives. We are all from diverse backgrounds, with different values, and beliefs. Do not add to the ignorance because you are faceless and can talk a bunch of crap on the internet.

    July 19, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  24. KT

    The only way to solve this bipartisan bickering is to change the criteria for confirming these judges. Instead of a simple majority, make it 2/3 or 3/4 of the Senate must approve of a Supreme Court nominee. That will ensure some sort of bipartisan compromise on the nominee that will hopefully lead to a Supreme Court full of moderates who will actually base their decisions on the facts of the case instead of their predetermined political stances (i.e. conservative or liberal)

    July 19, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  25. Chipster

    By devoting so much time to one snippet of a statement in one speech, Republicans have proven that: they either

    1. didn't bother to do any other research
    2. didn't read the entire speech for context
    3. had little interest in the candidate's judicial record
    4. couldn't find anything of substance to oppose

    I watched some of the hearings on C-SPAN and was amazed to hear the relevant and intelligent questions asked by Sen. Franken. I was especially impressed with his follow-up questions.

    The national news media all reported only on one funny exchange about Perry Mason episodes. The public may have gained more insight from the serious questions.

    I expect humor from the Daily Show, not from CNN and nightly news shows. So sorry to lose Walter Cronkite.

    July 19, 2009 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
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