This Tuesday, I was very fortunate to attend the confirmation hearings for Judge Sotomayor. I wrote some perspective for the latest issue Justice for All blog, but I wanted this opportunity to elaborate.
The hearing room, approximately the size of a large hotel ballroom, was filled with photographers and reporters. The senators sat in the front of the room at an elevated table with staffers and aides directly behind them. Judge Sotomayor was seated near them at a mahogany table in the center of the room.
I express gratitude to Mr. Imparato for securing the passes and to the judiciary staff for assistance with accessibility. Maneuverability was difficult because of limited seating accommodations. I utilized a "secret passageway" to enter and exit the hearing room. Despite brief inconvenience, my seating arrangements had advantages.
Sitting directly behind her family, I saw personal reactions from the Senators, particularly Al Franken. This was interesting as many senators would partake in mundane activities (cleaning glasses with tie among others), appear lethargic, or leave the hearing entirety. The publicity of congressional hearings is understated. Even without passes, lines were formed to "shuffle" people through the hearing in 30 minute rotations.
With less than two weeks experience in the Senate, Franken attempted to convey strong professionalism and reframe his comedic image. He wrote often, presumably taking notes or doodling perhaps. (-:
The security was relatively mild considering the circumstances. Despite a ban on cellular phones and cameras, several rang throughout the hearing. However, they enforced food restrictions during the hearing.
During questioning, the judge remained very poised and refused to provide hypothetical rationale or personal opinions despite Senators repeatedly emphasizing the “wise Latina” comment and the Ricci decision. Her responses demonstrated she has a very thorough understanding of the law as she did not refer to her notes frequently.
Based on these hearings, I believe Sotomayor will fairly evaluate civil rights cases with respect for the law and compassion for individuals. While her life experiences with diabetes were not addressed--as the first Supreme Court nominee to publicly acknowledge having a disability -- Sotomayor is uniquely qualified to assist her colleagues on the Supreme Court in realizing the importance of the protections in the ADA and other disability rights laws. .
As a youth advocate in the disability rights movement and prospective law student, the hearing was an excellent opportunity to utilize my educational and advocacy experiences in a real world context. Amongst numerous press and congressional staffers, I was honored to represent our community and illustrate the comprehensive nature of disability issues. I was disappointed with the lack of focus on civil rights issues, particularly those in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Regardless of the outcome, these hearings emphasize the importance of coalition building to demonstrate solidarity and fight for civil rights.
Nathan D Turner