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The newest member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), noted that it's just his fifth day in office but he understands that this is a "historic confirmation hearing."

"I plan to learn a lot from each of you," Franken told his colleagues, also saying he plans to follow Paul Wellstone's example. Franken was deferential to other senators throughout his opening statement, remarking upon Sen. Ted Kennedy's absence at Supreme Court Justice confirmation hearings for the first time since 1965 and saying, "we miss him."

Of Sotomayor, he said she is an "exceptional individual" who understands "at the end of our task some human being is going to be affected."

"I may not be a lawyer, but neither are the majority of Americans....I believe in judicial restraint [and] I want to hear your views on judicial restraint and activism in the context of important issues like voting rights, open access to the Internet, and campaign finance reform," he said.

As a quick update on this post, House health care leaders will hold an event at 3 pm this afternoon spotlighting health care horror stories as told by the people who lived through them--but they will not unveil legislative language. That appears to be on hold for at least a few more hours as intra-party disagreements are resolved and language is finalized. Moderates and conservatives have been trying to pull the bill to the right--and we'll probably know by tomorrow just how successful they've been.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Judge Sotomayor, welcome to you and your family. Your nomination caps what already has been a remarkable legal career. I join many, many Americans who feel proud to see you here today. It is a great country, and you represent its greatest attributes.

Your record leaves no doubt that you have the intellectual ability to serve as a Justice. From meeting with you and seeing the outpouring of support for your nomination, both from those who know you personally and from professional organizations with which you've worked, I see your collegiality and demeanor as significant attributes in your favor. I appreciate your years as a prosecutor, serving in the trenches of law enforcement. I am looking forward to learning more about the experience and judgment you appear poised to bring to the Supreme Court.

In the last two and a half months, my Republican colleagues have talked a great deal about judicial modesty and restraint. Fair enough to a point, but that point comes when these words become slogans, not real critiques of your record. Indeed, these calls for restraint and modesty, and complaints about "activist" judges, are often codewords, seeking a particular kind of judge who will deliver a particular set of political outcomes.

It is fair to inquire into a nominee's judicial philosophy, and we will have serious and fair inquiry. But the pretence that Republican nominees embody modesty and restraint, or that Democratic nominees must be activists, runs counter to recent history. I particularly reject the analogy of a judge to an "umpire" who merely calls "balls and strikes." If judging were that mechanical, we wouldn't need nine Supreme Court Justices. The task of an appellate judge, particularly on a court of final appeal, is often to define the strike zone, within a matrix of Constitutional principle, legislative intent, and statutory construction.

The "umpire" analogy is belied by Chief Justice Roberts, though he cast himself as an "umpire" during his confirmation hearings. Jeffrey Toobin, a well-respected legal commentator, has recently reported that "[i]n every major case since he became the nation's seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff." Some umpire. And is it a coincidence that this pattern, to continue Toobin's quote, "has served the interests, and reflected the values of the contemporary Republican party"? Some coincidence.

For all the talk of "modesty" and "restraint," the right wing Justices of the Court have a striking record of ignoring precedent, overturning congressional statutes, limiting constitutional protections, and discovering new constitutional rights: the infamous Ledbetter decision, for instance; the Louisville and Seattle integration cases, for example; the first limitation on Roe v. Wade that outright disregards the woman's health and safety; and the DC Heller decision, discovering a constitutional right to own guns that the Court had not previously noticed in 220 years. Over and over, news reporting discusses "fundamental changes in the law" wrought by the Roberts Court's right wing flank. The Roberts Court has not lived up to the promises of modesty or humility made when President Bush nominated Justices Roberts and Alito. Some "balls and strikes."

So, Judge Sotomayor, I'd like to avoid codewords, and look for a simple pledge: that you will decide cases on the law and the facts; that you will respect the role of Congress as representatives of the American people; that you will not prejudge any case, but listen to every party that comes before you; and that you will respect precedent and limit yourself to the issues that the Court must decide; in short, that you will use the broad discretion of a Supreme Court Justice wisely and in keeping with the Constitution.

Let me emphasize that broad discretion. As Justice Stevens has said, "the work of federal judges from the days of John Marshall to the present, like the work of the English common-law judges, sometimes requires the exercise of judgment - a faculty that inevitably calls into play notions of justice, fairness, and concern about the future impact of a decision."

Look at our history. America's common law inheritance is the accretion over generations of individual exercises of judgment. Our Constitution is a great document that John Marshall noted leaves "the minor ingredients" to judgment, to be deduced by our Justices from the document's great principles. The liberties in our Constitution have their boundaries defined, in the gray and overlapping areas, by informed judgment. None of this is "balls and strikes."

It has been a truism since Marbury v. Madison that courts have the authority to "say what the law is," even to invalidate statutes enacted by the elected branches of government when they conflict with the Constitution. So the issue is not whether you have a wide field of discretion: you will. As Justice Cardozo reminds us, you are not free to act as "a knight-errant, roaming at will in pursuit of [your] own ideal of beauty or of goodness," yet, he concluded, "[w]ide enough in all conscience is the field of discretion that remains."

The question for this hearing is: will you bring good judgment to that wide field? Will you understand, and care, how your decisions affect the lives of Americans? Will you use your broad discretion to advance the promises of liberty and justice made by the Constitution?

I believe that your diverse life experience, your broad professional background, your expertise as a judge at each level of the federal system, in short your accrued wisdom, will enrich your judgment as a Supreme Court justice. Justice Alito told this Committee that he brings his perspective as the grandson of immigrants to decisions in that area of the law. I am glad he does. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. famously said, the life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience.

If your wide experience brings life to a sense of the difficult circumstances faced by the less powerful among us: the woman being shunted around the bank from voicemail to voicemail as she tries to save her home from foreclosure; the family struggling to get by in the neighborhood the police only come to with raid jackets on; the couple up late at the kitchen table after the kids are in bed sweating out how to make ends meet that month; the man who believes a little differently, or looks a little different, or thinks things should be different; the voice no one listens to when the elected branches are deafened by monied interests; if you have empathy for those people in this job, you are doing nothing wrong. It is far better to listen for those unheard voices, and to seek to understand their points of view, than to ignore them in favor of a particular ideology, or corporation, or just the status quo.

The Founding Fathers set up the American judiciary as a check on the excesses of the elected branches, and as a refuge when those branches are corrupted, or consumed by passing passions. Courts were designed to be our guardians against what Hamilton in the Federalist Papers called "those ill humors, which the arts of designing men, or the influence of particular conjunctures, sometimes disseminate among the people . . . and which . . . have a tendency . . . to occasion ? serious oppressions of the minor party in the community." In present circumstances, those oppressions tend to fall on the poor and powerless, those without voice or influence. But as Hamilton noted, "[c]onsiderate men, of every description, ought to prize whatever will tend to beget or fortify that temper in the courts: as no man can be sure that he may not be tomorrow the victim of a spirit of injustice, by which he may be a gainer to-day."

A little skepticism of the status quo, an ear for challenges to the prevailing power structure, an extra effort to hear the side of a party who is out-spent and out-gunned--there is no shame in that for a judge. It is exactly what the Founders intended in an American judge.

The courtroom can be the only sanctuary for the little guy when the forces of society are arrayed against him, when proper opinion and elected officialdom will lend him no ear. This is a correct, fitting, and intended function of the judiciary in our constitutional structure, and the empathy President Obama saw in you has a constitutionally proper place in that structure. If everyone on the Court always voted for the prosecution against the defendant, for the corporation against the plaintiffs, and for the government against the condemned, a vital spark of American democracy would be extinguished. A courtroom is supposed to be a place where the status quo can be disrupted, even upended, when the Constitution or laws may require; where the comfortable can be afflicted and the afflicted find some comfort, all under the shelter of the law. It is worth remembering that judges of the United States have shown great courage over the years, courage verging on heroism, in providing that sanctuary of careful attention, what James Bryce called "the cool dry atmosphere of judicial determination," amidst the inflamed passions or invested powers of the day.

Judge Sotomayor, I believe your broad and balanced background and empathy prepare you well for this constitutional and proper judicial role.

So again, I join my colleagues in welcoming you to the Committee and I look forward to your testimony.

Judge Sotomayor, let me join my colleagues in extending a warm welcome to you and your family today. You have had a distinguished career as a lawyer and a judge. I enjoyed sitting down with you soon after you were nominated. And I am pleased to be able to welcome you to the Senate - and to give you an opportunity to introduce yourself to the American people.

In the history of the United States, there have been only 110 people who served on the Supreme Court. We should all stop and think about that. In more than 200 years, we have had only 110 Justices.

That means each and every Supreme Court nomination is a historic moment for our Nation. Each Supreme Court nomination is a time for a national conversation about the Supreme Court and its role. We have to ask ourselves: What is the proper direction of the Supreme Court?

To answer that, we need to recall our history. The Framers created a written Constitution to make sure our constitutional rights were fixed and certain. The state conventions who represented "We the People" looked at that written Constitution and decided to adopt it. The idea was that our rights would be written down for all to see.

This framework gave judges a role that is both unique in our form of government, and important. The role of judges was intended to be modest - that is, self-restrained and limited. Judges were not free to invent new rights as they saw fit. They were supposed to enforce what the Constitution's text says to enforce - and to leave the rest to the elected branches and to "We the People."

Over time, however, the Supreme Court has often veered off the course established by the Framers. First, the Supreme Court has invented new rights not clearly rooted in any constitutional text. For example, the Supreme Court has micromanaged the death penalty, creating new rights spun from whole cloth. It has announced constitutional rules governing everything from punitive damages to sexual activity. It has relied on international law that the People never adopted.

The Supreme Court has even taken on the job of defining the rules for the game of golf. (If you're curious, the case is PGA Tour v. Martin from 2001). Some people call this "judicial activism." Whatever you call it, it's pretty far from enforcing the written Constitution that the Framers proposed and the people enacted.

As the Supreme Court has invented new constitutional rights - it has often neglected the old ones. This flip side is troubling, too. Many of the original important safeguards on government power have been watered down or even ignored.

Express constitutional limitations like the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, the Commerce Clause limitations in Article I, and the Second Amendment's right to keep and bear arms have been artificially limited, almost like they were written out of the Constitution. Judges just haven't enforced them like the people expected them to.

So the Supreme Court has veered off course in multiple directions. The important question today is, where should the Supreme Court go from here? I think there are two choices.

First, the Supreme Court could try to get us back on course. That is, the Court could renew its respect for our original plan of government - and return us slowly but surely to the written Constitution. The Supreme Court's recent Second Amendment decision in DC v. Heller is a good example of this.

Second, the Court could veer off course once again - and follow its own star. It could continue to depart from the written Constitution. It could further erode the established rights we have in the text of the Constitution. And it could invent even more brand new rights not rooted in the text and not agreed to by the American people.

Judge Sotomayor, the purpose of this hearing is to determine which path you would take if confirmed to the Supreme Court. Would you vote to return to the written Constitution and the laws written by the elected representatives of the people? Or would you take us even further away from the written Constitution and laws legitimated by the consent of the governed?

To help the American people understand which of these paths you would take, we need to know more about your record. We need to know more about the legal reasoning behind some of your opinions on the Second Circuit. And we need to know more about some of your public statements related to your judicial philosophy.

In looking at your opinions on the Second Circuit, we recognize that lower court judges are supposed to be bound by Supreme Court and circuit precedent. To borrow a football analogy, a lower court judge is like the quarterback who executes the plays - not the coach who calls the plays.

That means many of your cases don't tell us much about your judicial philosophy. But a few of your opinions do raise questions - because they suggest the kinds of plays you'd call if you were promoted to the coaching staff. These opinions raise the question: would your steer the Court in the wrong direction - by limiting the rights that generations of Americans have regarded as fundamental?

So Americans need to know whether you would limit the scope of the Second Amendment - and whether we can count on you to uphold one of the fundamental liberties enshrined in our Bill of Rights.

We need to know whether you would limit the scope of the Fifth Amendment - and whether you would expand the definition of "public use" by which government can take private property from one person and give it to another person.

And we need to know whether you would uphold the plain language of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment promising that "No State shall ? deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Judge Sotomayor: some of your opinions suggest that you would limit some of our basic constitutional rights - and some of your public statements suggest that you would invent rights that do not exist in our written Constitution.

For example, in a 2001 speech, you argued that there is no objectivity in law, but only what you called "a series of perspectives" rooted in the life experience of each judge. In a 2006 speech, you said that judges can and even must change the law - even introducing what you called "radical change" - to meet the needs of an "evolving" society. And in a 2009 speech, you endorsed the use of foreign law in interpreting the Constitution on the grounds that it gives judges "good ideas" that "get their creative juices flowing."

Judge Sotomayor: we thank you for your candor in these speeches. Not every judicial nominee is so open about their judicial philosophy. Yet many Americans wonder what these various statements mean - and what you're trying to get at with these remarks. And many more wonder whether you are the kind of judge who will uphold the written Constitution - or the kind of judge who will veer us even further off course -and towards new rights invented by judges rather than ratified by the people.

Judge Sotomayor: These are some my concerns. I assure you that you will have every opportunity to address these concerns - and make clear which path you would take if you are confirmed to the Supreme Court. I welcome you to these hearings and I look forward to your testimony.

With House and Senate leaders up against an early, self-imposed August deadline to complete work on health care legislation, the administration may finally be willing to give both a kick in the pants. President Obama is set to meet with Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus and House Ways and Means Committee chairman Charlie Rangel at the White House at 4:30 this afternoon. Under discussion will surely be the question of financing. Rangel has articulated a preference for imposing a surtax on wealthy Americans to pay for about half of the House's reform proposal, while Baucus' committee hasn't settled on any revenue-generating schemes at all.

At the opening statements this morning of the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) told the Supreme Court nominee "unless you have a complete meltdown, you're going to get confirmed. And I don't think you will."

Graham's statements differ from other Republicans' opening statements, in which they attacked Sotomayor for alleged bias in the areas of ethnicity and gender - notably, Sens. Kyl, Grassley, and Coburn discussed this.

The senator from South Carolina also brought up twice that President Obama won the election in November, and that such "elections matter," rounding out his optimistic opening statement for Judge Sotomayor.

We've gotten some more information in recent days about that secret CIA program that the agency withheld key information from Congress about, and that CIA director Leon Panetta promptly shut down when he learned about it last month. But the new reports only raise more questions.

On Saturday, the New York Times reported that the CIA withheld information about the secret program "on direct orders" from then-Vice President Dick Cheney. The Times did not identify the program, but noted that, according to intelligence and congressional officials, it involved neither the CIA's interrogation program nor its domestic intelligence (e.g. warrantless wiretapping and surveillance) activities.

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Judge Sotomayor, let me also extend my welcome to you this morning and to your family. You are to be congratulated on your nomination.

Your nomination is a reflection of who we are as a country and it represents an American success story that we can all be proud of. Your academic and professional accomplishments - as prosecutor, private practitioner, trial judge and appellate judge - are exemplary. And as a judge, you have brought a richness of experience to the bench and to the judiciary which has been an inspiration for so many.

Today, we begin a process through which the Senate engages in its Constitutional role to "advise and consent" on your nomination. This week's hearing is the only opportunity we, and the American people, will have to learn about your judicial philosophy, your temperament, and your motivations before you put on the black robe and are heard from only in your judicial opinions.

The President has asked us to entrust you with an immense amount of power. Power which, by design, is free from political constraints, unchecked by the people, and unaccountable to Congress, except in the most extreme circumstances.

Our democracy, our rights, and everything we hold dear about America are built on the foundation of our Constitution. For more than 200 years, the Court has interpreted the meaning of the Constitution and in doing so guaranteed our most cherished rights. The right to equal education regardless of race. The right to an attorney and a fair trial for the accused. The right to personal privacy. The right to speak, vote and worship without interference from the government. Should you be confirmed, you and your colleagues will decide the future scope of our rights and the breadth of our freedoms. Your decisions will shape the fabric of American society for years to come.

That is why it is so important that over the course of the next few days, we gain a good understanding of what is in your heart and your mind. We don't have a right to know in advance how you will rule on cases which will come before you. But we need - and we deserve - to know what you think about fundamental issues such as civil rights, privacy, property rights, the separation of church and state, and civil liberties, to name a few. Some believe that the confirmation process has become thoroughly scripted, and that nominees are far too careful in cloaking their answers to important questions in generalities and with caveats about future cases. I recognize this concern, but I also hope that you recognize our desire to have a frank discussion with you about substantive issues.

These are not just concepts for law books. They are issues Americans care about. As crime plagues our communities, we navigate the balance between individual rights and the duty of law enforcement to protect and maintain order. As families struggle to make ends meet in these difficult times, we question the permissible role for government in helping get the economy back on track. As we continue to strive for equal rights in our schools and workplaces, we debate the tension between admissions policies and hiring practices that acknowledge diversity and those that attempt to be color-blind.

These issues invite all Americans to struggle with the dilemmas of democracy and the great questions of our Constitution. If we discuss them with candor, I believe we will have a conversation that the American people will profit from.

When considering Supreme Court nominees over the years, I have judged each one with a test of judicial excellence.

First, judicial excellence means the competence, character, and temperament that we expect of a Supreme Court Justice. He or she must have a keen understanding of the law, and the ability to explain it in ways that both the litigants and the American people will understand and respect, even if they disagree with the outcome.

Second, I look for a nominee to have the sense of values which form the core of our political and economic system. No one, including the President, has the right to require ideological purity from a member of the Supreme Court. But we do have a right to require that the nominee accept both the basic principles of the Constitution and its core values implanted in society.

Third, we want a nominee with a sense of compassion. This is a quality that I have considered with the last 6 Supreme Court Justices. Compassion does not mean bias or lack of impartiality. It is meant to remind us that the law is more than an intellectual game, and more than a mental exercise.

As Justice Black said, "The courts stand against any winds that blow as havens of refuge for those who might otherwise suffer because they are helpless, weak, outnumbered or because they are non-conforming victims of prejudice and public excitement."

A Supreme Court Justice must be able to recognize that real people, with real problems are affected by the decisions rendered by the court. They must have a connection with and an understanding of the problems that people struggle with on a daily basis. Justice, after all, may be blind, but it should not be deaf.

As Justice Thomas told us at his confirmation hearing, it is important that a justice, "can walk in the shoes of the people who are affected by what the Court does." I believe this comment embodies what President Obama intended when he said he wanted a nominee with "an understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live."

Your critics are concerned that your background will inappropriately impact your decision-making. But, it is impossible for any of us to remove ourselves from our life story with all of the twists and turns that make us who we are.

As you have acknowledged, "My experiences in life unquestionably shape my attitudes." And, I hope that we on this Committee can appreciate and relate to ourselves what you said next, "but I am cognizant enough that mine is not the only experience." You will have an opportunity before this Committee to assure us that your life experiences will impact but not overwhelm your duty to follow the law and Constitution.

After your confirmation to the Court of Appeals in 1998, you said about the discussions at your confirmation hearing, "So long as people of good will are participating in the process and attempting to be balanced in their approach, then the system will remain healthy." I hope our process will include a healthy level of balanced and respectful debate and I look forward to the opportunity to learn more about you and what sort of justice you aspire to be.

U.S. SENATOR BENJAMIN L. CARDIN (D-MD) CONFIRMATION HEARING FOR JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR TO BE AN ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES OPENING STATEMENT

I am honored to represent the people of Maryland in the U.S. Senate, and to serve on the Judiciary Committee, as we consider one of our most important responsibilities - whether we should recommend to the full Senate the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

The next term of the Supreme Court that begins in October is likely to consider fundamental issues that will impact the lives of all Americans. In recent years, there have been many important cases decided by the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote. Each Justice can play a critical role in forming the needed consensus in our nation's highest court. A new Justice could - and very well may -- have a profound impact on the direction of the court.

Supreme Court decisions affect each and every person in our nation. I think of my own family history. My grandparents came to America more than 100 years ago. I am convinced that they came to America not only for greater economic opportunities, but because of the ideals expressed in our Constitution, especially the First Amendment guaranteeing religious freedom. My grandparents wanted their children to grow up in a country where they would be able to practice their Jewish faith and fully participate in their community and government. My father, one of their sons, became a lawyer, state legislator, circuit court judge and President of his synagogue. And now his son serves in the U.S. Senate.

While our Founding Fathers made freedom of religion a priority, equal protection for all races took longer to achieve. I attended Liberty School No. 64, a public elementary school in Baltimore City. It was part of a segregated public school system that - under the law - denied every student in Baltimore the opportunity to learn in a classroom that represented the diversity of our community.

I remember with great sadness how discrimination was not only condoned but, more often than not, actually encouraged against Blacks, Jews, Catholics, and other minorities in the community. There were neighborhoods that my parents warned me to avoid for fear of my safety because I was Jewish. The local movie theater denied admission to African Americans. Community swimming pools had signs that said "No Jews, No Blacks Allowed." Even Baltimore's amusement parks and sports clubs were segregated by race. Then came Brown vs. Board of Education and, suddenly, my universe and community were changed forever.

The decision itself moved our nation forward by correcting grievous wrongs that were built into the law. It also brought to the forefront of our national consciousness a great future jurist from Baltimore - Thurgood Marshall. Marshall had been denied admission to the University of Maryland Law School due to the color of his skin but went on to represent the plaintiff in the 1954 landmark Brown vs. Board of Education. And in 1967, it was Marshall - the grandson of a slave - who was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson as the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court.

The nine justices of the United States Supreme Court have the tremendous responsibility of safeguarding the framers' intent and the guiding values of our Constitution while ensuring the protections and rights found in that very Constitution are applied to and relevant to the issues of the day. At times, the Supreme Court has and should look beyond popular sentiment to preserve these basic principles and the rule of law. The next justice, who will fill Justice Souter's place on the court, will be an important voice on these fundamental issues.

It is my belief that the Constitution and Bill of Rights were created to be living documents that stand together as the foundation for the rule of law in our nation. Our history reflects this. When the Constitution was written, African Americans were considered property and counted only as three-fifths of a person. Non-whites and women were not allowed to vote. Individuals were restricted by race as to whom they could marry. Decisions by the Supreme Court undeniably have moved our country forward, continuing the progression of Constitutional protections that have changed our Nation for the better.

Before the Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education that "separate was not equal," the law permitted our society to have separate facilities for black and white students. Before the Court ruled in Loving vs. Virginia, a state could prohibit persons from marrying based on race. Before the Court ruled in Roe vs. Wade, women had no constitutional implied right to privacy. These are the difficult questions that have come before the Court, and that the Framers could not have anticipated. New challenges will continue to arise but the basic framework of protections remains.

I want to complement President Obama in forwarding to the U.S. Senate a nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who is well qualified for our consideration. Her well-rounded background, including extensive experiences as a prosecutor, trial judge and appellate judge, will prove a valuable addition to our nation's highest court.

As a relatively new member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as I prepared for this week, I considered a few key standards that I apply to all judicial nominations. First, I believe nominees must have an appreciation for the Constitution and the protections it provides to each and every American. She (or he) must embrace a judicial philosophy that reflects mainstream American values, not narrow ideological interests. They should have a strong passion to continue the Court's advances in Civil Rights. There is a careful balance to be found here: our next Justice should advance the protections found in our Constitution, but not disregard important precedent that has made our society stronger by embracing our civil liberties. I believe judicial nominees also must demonstrate a respect for the rights and responsibilities of each branch of government.

These criteria allow me to evaluate a particular judge and whether she or he might place their personal philosophy ahead of the responsibility of the office. The First Congress enacted the Judiciary Act of 1789, which requires judges to swear or affirm that they will "administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent on me, according to the best of my abilities and understanding, agreeably to the Constitution, and laws of the United States, so help me God."

As this Committee begins considering the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, I want to quote Justice Thurgood Marshall, who said, "None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps." Judge Sotomayor is a perfect example of how family, hard work, supportive professors and mentors, and opportunity can all come together to create a real American success story.

She was born in New York, to a Puerto Rican family, and grew up in a public housing project in the South Bronx. Her mother was a nurse and her father was a factory worker with a third-grade education. She was taught early in life that education is the key to success, and her strong work ethic enabled her to excel in school and graduate valedictorian of her high school. She attended Princeton University, graduating cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, and she received the highest honor Princeton awards to an undergraduate. At Yale Law School, she was editor of the Law Review, where she was known to stand up for herself and not to be intimidated by anyone.

Nominated by both Democratic and Republican presidents, for 17 years she has been a distinguished jurist and now has more federal judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in the last hundred years.

At this time, I also want to recognize Justice David Souter; the justice whose vacancy Judge Sotomayor has been nominated to fill. His jurisprudence is rightly characterized as thoughtful and independent, crafted to keep faith with the requirements of justice and the duties of the judiciary. I thank him for his work.

This week's hearings are essential. With some understanding of the context of Judge Sotomayor's life and the role that she potentially is about to fill on the Supreme Court, I believe it is particularly important during this confirmation hearing to question Judge Sotomayor on the guiding principles she would use on reaching decisions. For example, it is important for me to understand her interpretation of "established precedent" on protecting individual Constitutional rights. I believe it would be wrong for Supreme Court Justices to turn their back on landmark Court precedents protecting individual Constitutional rights.

It is likely that the Supreme Court will consider important protections in our Constitution for women, our environment and consumers, as well as voting rights, privacy, and the separation of church and state, among others, in coming years. The Supreme Court also has recently been active in imposing limits on executive power. It will continue to deal with the Constitutional rights in our criminal justice system, the rights of terror detainees and the rights of non-citizens.

All of these issues test our Nation's - and the Supreme Court's - commitment to our founding principles and fundamental values. For this reason, we need to know how our nominee might approach these issues and analyzes these decisions.

I look forward to hearing from Judge Sotomayor on these issues and expect that she will share with this Committee, and the American People, her judicial views and her thoughts on the protections in our Constitution.

I want to thank Judge Sotomayor for her public service and readiness to take on this great responsibility for our Nation. I also wish to thank her family for their clear support and sacrifice that has brought us to this hearing today.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Sessions.

And welcome to the many members of Judge Sotomayor's family, who I know are exceptionally proud to be here today in support of her historic nomination.

Our presence here today is about a nominee who is supremely well-qualified, with experience on the district court and appellate court benches that is unmatched in recent history. It is about a nominee who, in 17 years of judging, has authored opinion after opinion that is smart, thoughtful, and judicially modest.

In short, Judge Sotomayor has stellar credentials. There's no question about that. Judge Sotomayor has twice before been nominated to the bench and gone through confirmation hearings with bipartisan support. The first time, she was nominated by a Republican President.

But most important, Judge Sotomayor's record bespeaks judicial modesty--something that our friends on the right have been clamoring for--in a way that no recent nominee's has. It is the judicial record, more than speeches and statements, more than personal background, that most accurately measures how "modest" a judicial nominee will be.

There are several ways of measuring modesty in the judicial record. I think that Judge Sotomayor more than measures up to each of them.

First, as we will hear in the next few days, Judge Sotomayor puts rule of law above everything else. Given her extensive and even-handed record, I am not sure how any member of this panel can sit here today and seriously suggest that she comes to the bench with a personal agenda. Unlike Justice Alito, she does not come to the bench with a record number of dissents.

Instead, her record shows that she is in the mainstream:

- She has agreed with your Republican colleagues 95 percent of the time;

- She has ruled for the government in 83 percent of immigration cases;

- She has ruled for the government in 92 percent of criminal cases;

- She has denied race claims in 83 percent of cases;

- She has split evenly in a variety of employment cases.

Second - and this is an important point because of her unique experience in the district court - Judge Sotomayor delves thoroughly into the facts of each case. She trusts that an understanding of the facts will lead, ultimately, to justice.

I would ask my colleagues to do this: examine a sampling of her cases in a variety of areas. In case after case after case, Judge Sotomayor rolls up her sleeves, learns the facts, applies the law to the facts, and comes to a decision irrespective of her inclinations or her personal experience.

- In a case involving a New York police officer who made white supremicist remarks, she upheld his right to make them; - In a case brought by plaintiffs who claimed they had been bumped from a plane because of race, she dismissed their case because the law required it; - And she upheld the First Amendment right of a prisoner to wear religious beads under his uniform. And, in hot-button cases such as ones involving professional sports, she carefully adheres to the facts before her. She upheld the NFL's ability to maintain certain player restrictions, and she also ruled in favor of baseball players to end the Major League Baseball strike.

I'd rather have a Supreme Court justice whose clear and obvious agenda is to examine each case than one whose covert goal is to change the way that courts decide cases.

Third, Judge Sotomayor has hewed carefully to the text of statutes, even when doing so results in rulings that go against so-called "sympathetic" litigants.

In dissenting from an award of damages to injured plaintiffs in a maritime accident, she wrote "we start with the assumption that it is for Congress, not the federal courts, to articulate the appropriate standards to be applied as a matter of federal law."

Just short of four years ago, then-Judge Roberts sat where Judge Sotomayor is sitting. He told us that his jurisprudence would be characterized by "modesty and humility." He illustrated this with a now well-known quote: "Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules. They apply them."

Chief Justice Roberts was, and is, a supremely intelligent man with impeccable credentials. But many can debate whether during his four years on the Supreme Court he actually has called pitches as they come -- or has tried to change the rules.

But any objective review of Judge Sotomayor's record on the Second Circuit leaves no doubt that she has simply called balls and strikes for 17 years, far more closely than Chief Justice Roberts has during his four years on the Supreme Court.

More important, if Judge Sotomayor continues to approach cases on the Supreme Court as she has for the last 17 years, she will actually be modest. This is because she does not adhere to a philosophy that dictates results over the facts that are presented.

So, if the number one standard that conservatives use and apply is judicial "modesty and humility" - no activism on the Supreme Court - they should vote for Judge Sotomayor unanimously.

I look forward to the next few days of hearings, and to Judge Sotomayor's confirmation.

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