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National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2010--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2010--Continued -- (Senate - July 22, 2009)



Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. President, 28 years ago my father, former Congressman from Arizona, Morris Udall, took the long walk from the House of Representatives to come to the Senate. The divide that separates the two great Chambers of Congress sometimes struck my father as deeper and wider than the Grand Canyon of Arizona, but he crossed over that day because he had a mission. He came to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of a fellow Arizonan Sandra Day O'Connor--the first woman to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

My father, who was often at odds with ideologues of every stripe, noted she was ``clearly conservative,'' but he also spoke of her ``great judicial temperament'' and her disposition to always put justice ahead of partisanship.

Justice O'Connor proved to be an outstanding member of the Court, and my father never regretted his decision to support her nomination.

A generation later, I am honored to stand here today to voice my strong support for the first Hispanic woman nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court--Sonia Sotomayor.

Judge Sotomayor's story is truly the quintessential example of the American dream. The daughter of Puerto Rican parents who moved to New York City at a time when racial and ethnic prejudice was widespread, she lost her father at age 9. Her extraordinary mother worked hard to provide an example of striving in the best sense of that word. Sonia Sotomayor took that example to Princeton, Yale Law School, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, and as a Federal judge.

It is no wonder the Hispanic community is proud of this nomination and has shown an outpouring of support for Judge Sotomayor. I was moved personally to learn that Hispanic citizens from across the country traveled to Washington, DC, and stood in line for hours in order to be in the audience for her confirmation hearings.

Former Colorado State Senator Polly Baca was one of those who traveled from Colorado. As a friend of the Sotomayor family, Polly's reaction mirrored many others when she said that the judge is ``just brilliant.'' ``Some people viewed her as a bit of a nerd,'' Senator Baca said, ``because she worked so hard, studied so hard. And she's led her life that way. .....'' ``She is who she is,'' Senator Baca concluded. This historic nomination is not only a source of pride for Hispanic Americans, but for all of us. That is because we all take heart and experience pride when we hear of a fellow American who overcomes great obstacles and does good through hard work and perseverance.

Let me quote the Greeley Tribune out on our eastern plains in my home State of Colorado. The Tribune wrote:

This is, instead, a celebration of the growth of our democracy ..... it is important that we recognize her nomination for what it is: a signpost on the unending road toward a more perfect union.

The Framers of the Constitution specifically outlined the advise and consent role of the Senate regarding nominations. This is one of our most solemn duties as Senators, the importance of which cannot be overstated. I take this responsibility very seriously. The Supreme Court is the highest Court in our land. Once it rules on a case, that holding and rule become the law of the land. The Presiding Officer, as the former attorney general of Illinois, knows that to be the case. The men and women we send to serve there make decisions and render judgments that can chart our destiny, literally, as a people.

So an inspiring life story is not the only or even the most compelling reason to confirm Judge Sotomayor. What matters most? Her qualifications for the job, her record, and her approach to the Constitution.

Last week my colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee began the confirmation proceedings for Judge Sotomayor and examined her record. During those hearings, the judge handled herself with grace and poise. She answered tough questions and clearly demonstrated her commitment to the law and the Constitution.

Out on the west slope of our great State of Colorado, we have the city of Grand Junction. The Daily Sentinel, that city's newspaper, stated last week: ``Sotomayor is unquestionably qualified.'' And I agree.

There is no doubt that she is superbly qualified to be our next Supreme Court Justice. As a Federal trial judge, in addition to her more recent experience on the court of appeals, Judge Sotomayor brings more experience as a judge to the job of serving on the Supreme Court than anyone currently serving on the Court.

In addition, the judge received a ``well-qualified'' rating from the American Bar Association. This is the highest rating from the ABA, notable because it is given by Judge Sotomayor's peers.

Judge Sotomayor has received endorsements from a variety of organizations, ranging from law enforcement and sportsmen and hunters, to legal and higher education professionals.

The Framers of the Constitution anticipated the importance of having an independent and duty-bound judiciary. Alexander Hamilton, in the Federalist Papers, noted that:

To avoid an arbitrary discretion in the courts, it is indispensable that they should be bound down by strict rules and precedents, which serve to define and point out their duty in every particular case that comes before them. .....

From her record, it is unmistakable that Judge Sotomayor has demonstrated a commitment to precedent and the rule of law, as Mr. Hamilton described it. During her confirmation hearings, she said:

As a judge, I do not make the law ..... judges must apply the law.

Some have raised the question whether Judge Sotomayor is a ``liberal activist'' because of her involvement on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. But Judge Sotomayor's role and involvement has not been in directing legal opinions from this organization, but it has been directed instead at encouraging Puerto Rican youth to pursue careers in the legal profession.

According to her record, she has participated in 434 published panel decisions where there was at least one judge appointed by a Republican President. Despite notions to the contrary, she has agreed with the result favored by the Republican appointee 95 percent of the time. What does that demonstrate? Well, it demonstrates that Judge Sotomayor does not have an ideological bias but that she is a moderate jurist.

I also wish to acknowledge another alleged controversy Judge Sotomayor's critics have seized upon as a reason to oppose her confirmation; that is, her so-called ``wise Latina'' remarks in which the judge waxed not so eloquently on her hopes that she might draw special wisdom and insight from her personal experience. Judge Sotomayor herself has acknowledged the clumsiness of her language. If anything in her record suggested a special bias or prejudice, these words might be evidence of a larger problem, but that is simply not borne out in a review of her record on the bench. Nor did her decision on the Ricci case strike me as evidence of activist bias so much as it was a case of deference for judicial precedent. It strikes me as particularly unfair for Judge Sotomayor's critics to assail her for social activism when there is little, if any, evidence of that in her record, and they also used the Ricci case as an example. Frankly, I think the judge's opinions consistently show judicial restraint, respect for established legal precedent, and deference to the policymaking role of the elected branches--even when it leads to a result that may be unpopular or different from her personal opinion.

After I had a chance to meet with Judge Sotomayor, I came away with the opinion that she possesses the temperament, the qualifications, and the experience to meet the challenges of serving at the highest level on the Supreme Court.

I also appreciated that she acknowledged one of the most important issues to the livelihood of westerners: water. She surprised me when she said that all of the questions surrounding water may be among the most challenging legal controversies we face in the next 25 to 50 years. We did not have a conversation about the specific legal issues that might emerge around water, energy, or public lands in the West, but what I saw was a reassuring appreciation for the unique problems of our region and an intellectual curiosity to match it.

So as I conclude, I have reviewed Judge Sotomayor's impressive judicial record. I have watched and listened carefully to her answers during her confirmation hearing and met with her in person. Like Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, I believe she is poised to make history. I am proud to support her nomination, and I would encourage my colleagues in the Senate to do likewise.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.


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