Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold joined fellow Democrats and one Republican (South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham) on the winning side of last week’s 13-6 vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee to approve the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
But the chair the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution wishes he knew a little more about the thinking of the woman who is now all but certain to be confirmed before the Senate breaks next week for the traditional August recess.
“I cannot say that I learned everything about Judge Sonia Sotomayor that I would have liked to learn,” he said in an endorsement of President Barack Obama’s first high court nominee by the Judiciary Committee’s most determined defender of the Constitution. “But what I did learn about her makes me believe that that she will serve with distinction on the Court, and that I should vote in favor of her confirmation.”
Feingold’s measure of whether a nominee is serious about maintaining a system of checks and balances and protecting basic liberties is an important one. To a greater extent than other members of the Judiciary Committee or the Senate as a whole, he has been willing to stand alone when it comes to Constitutional questions. That has put the Wisconsin Democrat at odds not just with totalitarian Republicans like former Vice President Dick Cheney but with compromising Democrats such as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
To Feingold’s view, Obama’s nominee meets Constitutional muster.
“Judge Sotomayor’s record and testimony satisfied me that she understands the important role of the Court in protecting civil liberties, even in a time of war,” the senator said. “She sat on a Second Circuit panel that struck down portions of the National Security Letter statute that was so dramatically expanded by the Patriot Act. And when I asked her how September 11 changed her view of the law, she gave the following answer: ‘The Constitution is a timeless document. It was intended to guide us through decades, generation after generation, to everything that would develop in our country. It has protected us as a nation. It has inspired our survival. That doesn’t change.'”