Speeches & Floor Statements
Posted on July 30, 2009
Madam President, I have a statement to make about the President's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Even though Judge Sotomayor's political and judicial philosophy may be different from mine, especially regarding second amendment rights, I will vote to confirm her because she is well qualified by experience, temperament, character, and intellect to serve as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2005, I said on this floor that it was wrong for then-Senator Obama and half the Democratic Senators to vote against John Roberts – a superbly qualified nominee – solely because they disagreed with what Senator Obama described as Roberts' "overarching political philosophy" and "his work in the White House and the Solicitor General's Office" that "consistently sided" with "the strong in opposition to the weak." Today, it would be equally wrong for me to vote against Judge Sotomayor solely because she is not "on my side" on some issues. Courts were never intended to be political bodies composed of judges "on your side" who would reliably tilt your way in controversial cases. Courts are supposed to do just the opposite: decide difficult cases with impartiality. The oath Judge Sotomayor has taken twice and will take again when she is sworn in as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court says it best: "...I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich and...I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me...under the Constitution and laws of the United States." During her confirmation hearings, Judge Sotomayor expressly rejected then-Senator Obama's view that in a certain percentage of judicial decisions, "the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in a judge's heart...and [in] the depth and breadth of one's empathy." In answer to a question from Senator Kyl, she said in her confirmation hearing: "I can only explain what I think judges should do, which is judges can't rely on what's in their heart. They don't determine the law. Congress makes the laws. The job of a judge is to apply the law. And so it's not the heart that compels conclusions in cases. It's the law. The judge applies the law to the facts before that judge." Giving broad Senate approval to obviously well-qualified nominees helps to increase the prestige of the Supreme Court and to confirm its impartiality. For that reason, until the last few years, Republican and Democratic Senators, after rigorous inquiries into the fitness of nominees, usually have given those well-qualified nominees an overwhelming vote of approval. For example, no Justice on the Supreme Court that John Roberts joined in 2005 had received more than nine negative votes. Four were confirmed unanimously. All but three Republican Senators voted for Justice Ginsburg, a former general counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union. Every single Democratic Senator voted to confirm Justice Scalia. In truly extraordinary cases, Senators, of course, reserve the prerogative, as I do, to vote no or even to vote to deny an up-or-down vote. During the 8 years I was Governor of Tennessee, I appointed about 50 judges. In doing so, I looked for the same qualities Justice Roberts and Judge Sotomayor have demonstrated: intelligence, good character, restraint, respect for law, and respect for those who came before the court. I did not ask one applicant how he or she would rule on abortion or immigration or taxation. I appointed the first female circuit judge in our State and the first African-American court chancellor and the first African-American State supreme court justice. I appointed both Democrats and Republicans. That process served our State well and helped to build respect for the independence and fairness of our judiciary. In the same way, it is my hope that my vote now will not only help to confirm a well-qualified nominee but will help to return the Senate to the practice only recently lost of inquiring diligently into qualifications of a nominee and then accepting that elections have consequences, one of which is to confer upon the President of the United States the constitutional right to nominate Justices of the Supreme Court. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record my floor remarks in support of Judge John Roberts on September 27, 2005. To read Senator Alexander's 2005 speech in support of the nomination of John Roberts to serve as Chief Justice, please click here.