The second day of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing proceeded as smoothly as the first, even as the judge placed herself firmly in the camp of those who say that the debate about whether women have a legally-defined right to choose has been settled.
Asked by Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl, a ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, to comment on the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that removed key barriers to reproductive rights, Judge Sotomayor said that “settled law” now affirms the right of women to terminate unwanted abortions.
Noting that the high court had upheld the Roe ruling in its 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the judge said: “Casey reaffirmed the holding in Roe. That is the Supreme Court’s settled interpretation of what the court holding is and its reaffirmance of it.”
That’s likely to be the headline from Day 2 of the Sotomayor session. As the National Journal observers note: “Over the course of her long career, Sotomayor has not ruled in an abortion-related matter. This marks her first public affirmation for support of the precedent set in the landmark case.”
But it is not exactly “news” that President Obama’s first Supreme Court pick — a woman who before her appointment to the federal bench worked with groups that supported abortion rights — would err on the side of reproductive freedom.
As such, the real “news” of the day was subtler in character but no less significant with regard to the question of whether (or, perhaps, by what margin) Judge Sotomayor will be confirmed.
The key conversation was between Judge Sotomayor and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, the former Republican chairman of the committee.
Unlike the committee’s rabid Republican pointman, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, Hatch was not just respectful of Judge Sotomayor. The Utah senator seemed, genuinely, to be listening to her answers to his questions – and perhaps looking for a hook on which to hang a “yes” vote.
Hatch was firm with the nominee, especially during a pointed line of questioning about cases involving gun rights. But Judge Sotomayor matched wits with the senior senator point for point, meeting arcane questions with precise responses that referenced footnotes and comments by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.