Graham goes on the warpath against Sotomayor

The South Carolina Republican was the judge's toughest foe Tuesday, but the whole thing was a bit baffling

Published July 14, 2009 10:20PM (EDT)

It's funny: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., says he likes Judge Sonia Sotomayor, "for whatever that matters." And, he said, he might even vote for her. But Graham was also Sotomayor's fiercest opponent on Tuesday.

The senator focused in particular on accusations made by Sotomayor's detractors that the judge lacks the temperament necessary for a Supreme Court justice -- that she's rude to lawyers who come before her, a bully. Sotomayor, though, appeared well prepared for that line of questioning, maintaining her cool and brushing away the concerns. A bit of the exchange: 

GRAHAM: One thing that stood out about your record is that when you look at the almanac of the federal judiciary, lawyers anonymously rate judges in terms of temperament. And here's what they said about you: She's a terror on the bench. She's temperamental, excitable, she seems angry. She's overall aggressive, not very judicial. She does not have a very good temperament. She abuses lawyers. She really lacks judicial temperament. She behaves in an out-of-control manner. She makes inappropriate outbursts. She's nasty to lawyers. She will attack lawyers for making an argument she does not like. She can be a bit of a bully.

When you look at the evaluation of the judges on the Second Circuit, you stand out like a sore thumb in terms of your temperament. What is your answer to these criticisms?

SOTOMAYOR: I do ask tough questions at oral arguments.

GRAHAM: Are you the only one that asks tough questions in oral arguments?

SOTOMAYOR: No, sir. No, not at all. I can only explain what I'm doing which is when I ask lawyers tough questions, it's to give them an opportunity to explain their positions on both sides and to persuade me that they're right. I do know that, in the Second Circuit, because we only give litigants 10 minutes of oral argument each, that the processes in the second circuit are different than in most other circuits across the country. And that some lawyers do find that our court, which is not just me, but our court generally, is described as a hot bench, it's a term that lawyers use. It means that they're peppered with questions. Lots of lawyers who are unfamiliar with the process in the second circuit find that tough bench difficult and challenging.

GRAHAM: If I may interject, judge, they find you difficult and challenging more than your colleagues.

From there, some of the senator's questioning got a bit bizarre -- he went into a digression about rule of law in Muslim countries, asked Sotomayor her feelings on the attacks of 9/11, he somewhat jokingly asked her to recite her infamous "wise Latina" quote (smartly, she didn't). At times, he was condescending; at others, he appeared willfully obtuse. It was quite the performance to watch -- and if you do want to watch it, the full video is below.


By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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