Brutal honesty that could never be

Republicans were trying to tell America that Barack Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court was a liberal beyond the comfortable mainstream.

Sonia Sotomayor was coached to turn the other cheek, bide her time and await routine confirmation.

To behold all that posing and posturing was to find yourself longing for a brutal, gritty honesty that could never be.

Something like this:

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama: “I’m concerned, Judge Sotomayor (which he mispronounces), about all this talk by the president and your supporters about ’empathy.’

“I fear that this is code in the liberal activist community for a biased sensitivity that you will bring to our highest court that defies the impartiality that I believe to be essential to real justice.”

Sotomayor: “Senator, I would contend quite to the contrary that empathy can be a most helpful quality. I, for example, have empathy for you.

“Once you were nominated for a federal judgeship yourself and you got denied in this very room. It was on account of your having once called the NAACP ‘communist-inspired’ and having once made a joke that the Ku Klux Klan was all right by you until you found out there was marijuana smoking within its ranks.

“Thus you and I have the shared experience of finding past comments hurled against us in the judicial confirmation process.

“So I come to our interaction here with a special sensitivity to you — indeed, with empathy for you. But, just as I would apply the law as the law strictly applies without regard for any special sensitivity, I would, if required to assess you as a U.S. senator, declare that you, by my most detached and objective standard, are well below par. But I still would have empathy, you see.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina: “Judge Sotomayor, they tell me that you run what are called ‘hot’ oral arguments. By that I mean that lawyers who have appeared before your district court of appeals have come away saying that you can be rude and abrupt and argumentative, combative, maybe even ridiculing.

“I am concerned, based on those accounts, as to whether you have the appropriate judicial temperament to warrant promotion to our highest court.”

Sotomayor: “Blunt, outspoken, argumentative in oral arguments — forgive me, senator, but I thought for a minute that you had slipped back in time to Antonin Scalia’s confirmation hearing.

“Would you prefer me to be mute, as perhaps you think a woman should be, and as Clarence Thomas has been for a solid 15 years now?

“I would hope that you would prefer that the justices of your highest court be smarter and more learned in the law, as a rule, than the petitioners who present cases.

“When these lawyers appearing before me start getting irrelevant and redundant and banal, then, yes, I’ve been know to move them along rather brusquely.”

Sessions, again: “You once said publicly that you believe a wise old Latina woman could come to a better decision than an old white man. How in the world is that not reflective of racial prejudice?”

Sotomayor: “You know, I’d like to retract that remark. It would depend entirely on the Latina woman and the white man. Perhaps I only meant to say that someone like me would be a better judge than someone like you, which might explain why I’ll be confirmed and you never were.”

Graham, again: “Judge Sotomayor, you present me with a difficult situation. Do I vote for you owing to your unassailable credentials or do I vote against you because I do not want a person making the decisions I believe you will make serving on the Supreme Court?”

Judge Sotomayor: “Vote as you please, senator. When you had your president, the Democrats couldn’t stop Roberts or Alito, as much as they would have liked. So now you must take yourself the medicine you formerly administered.”

John Brummett is an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock and author of “High Wire,” a book about Bill Clinton’s first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@

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