U.S. senators 'strip search' Judge Sotomayor

Alton H.Maddox | , Jr. | 4/12/2011, 4:40 p.m.

Article II of the U.S. Constitution empowers the president to nominate persons to the Supreme Court with the "advice and consent" of the Senate. The Supreme Court nominee may lack legal training and he or she is not explicitly required under the Constitution to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was established as a standing committee in 1816 and no Supreme Court nominee appeared before it until 1925. This nominee was Harlan Stone, who established the model for vetting Supreme Court nominees. The U.S. Supreme Court was created in 1789.

The Senate Judiciary Committee sought testimony from Supreme Court nominee Stone about the Teapot Dome Scandal. President Calvin Coolidge named him attorney general to investigate the scandals in the Harding administration. President Warren Harding, a person of African ancestry, had been murdered and a cover-up was afoot.

Professor Felix Frankfurter had to appear before this standing committee in 1939 to answer slanderous accusations that had been lodged against him. Interestingly, Frankfurter described Charles Hamilton Houston as one of his best and brightest students at Harvard Law School and he attended Houston's funeral in 1950.

Brown v. Bd. of Education ushered in the routine practice of vetting nominees for the Supreme Court. There was also Gayle v. Browder. Blacks had to be kept in check. Nominees for the Supreme Court must be kept within the mainstream of American decision making.

Senators want to make sure that Supreme Court decisions continue to restrict the privileges and immunities clause of the 14th Amendment to the Slaughterhouse Cases and that the 13th Amendment stays clear of defining "badges of servitude." Judge Sonia Sotomayor stuttered in her discussion of the Slaughterhouse Cases.

Only about 20 percent of all Supreme Court nominees have been questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee and no one, including Judge Thurgood Marshall, has been as shabbily treated as Judge Sotomayor, who brings more federal judicial experience to the High Court than any other Supreme Court nominee.

All of the stereotypes of a Puerto Rican jurist were present in her confirmation hearing led by know-it-all Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama with the acquiescence of Senate Democrats. I doubt if she could have been more shabbily treated by hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan.

The accusations against her ran the gamut from reverse racism to incompetence. Had it not been for affirmative action, according to implied statements by members of the U.S. Senate, Judge Sotomayor would probably have been a hotel maid. America is still unable to outlive its racist past.

If there is no need for a Supreme Court nominee to be a lawyer coupled with a lack of a constitutional requirement for a Supreme Court nominee to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, you have to question why Senate Democrats would subject her to this ordeal. They have the votes to prevent a filibuster.

The nomination of Judge Sotomayor was not groundbreaking. Justice Marshall enjoyed this distinction. His elevation to the Supreme Court paved the way for the nominations of Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Ginsburg. None of them were members of a group that could vote before Reconstruction, except women, who were disenfranchised until 1920.