Despite Graham's condescension, media report "respectful," "cordial" GOP questioning of Sotomayor

››› ››› TOM ALLISON

Media have characterized Republicans' questioning of Sonia Sotomayor as "cordial," "civil," and "respectful," apparently ignoring the condescension by Sen. Lindsey Graham, who, after reading several anonymous criticisms of her, said: "[M]aybe these hearings are time for self-reflection."

In their coverage of the second day of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, media characterized Republican senators' questioning as "cordial," "largely civil," and "respectful but tough." For instance, during the July 14 edition of Fox News' Special Report, correspondent Carl Cameron asserted that the Judiciary Committee's questioning of Sotomayor that day "has been largely cordial and civil, though pointed on a number of occasions." Similarly, on the CBS Evening News, anchor Katie Couric said, "[Sotomayor's] Republican critics were respectful but tough as they zeroed in on her most controversial comment." But Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Sotomayor to respond to anonymous criticisms of her temperament published in the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, some of which he read, including, "She's a terror on the bench," "she abuses lawyers," "she behaves in an out of control manner," and "She's nasty to lawyers" -- criticisms that a prominent colleague, among others, have reportedly dismissed as "sexist, plain and simple." Near the conclusion of this line of questioning, Graham said: "[M]aybe these hearings are time for self-reflection" -- hardly an expression of "respect."

Their assessment of the Republican senators' conduct differed from media reactions during the confirmation hearings for then-Judge Samuel Alito. Following an incident in which Alito's wife became emotional, several media figures, including then-NBC Today show host Couric, suggested that Senate Democrats "went too far."

From Graham's questioning of Sotomayor on July 14:

GRAHAM: OK. Now, let's talk about you. I like you, by the way, for whatever that matters. Since I may vote for you that ought to matter to you. 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 believes in an out -- 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?

[...]

GRAHAM: And in fairness to you, there are plenty of statements in the record in support of you as a person, that do not go down this line. But I will just suggest to you, for what it's worth, judge, as you go forward here, that these statements about you are striking. They're not about your colleagues. The ten-minute rule [for oral argument time in the Second Circuit] applies to everybody and that obviously you've accomplished a lot in your life, but maybe these hearings are time for self-reflection. This is pretty tough stuff that you don't see from -- about other judges on the Second Circuit.

In addition to Cameron and Couric's descriptions, CNN host Campbell Brown commented on the July 14 edition of her CNN show that "[t]hings have been pointed but, by and large, pretty civilized on Capitol Hill." Also, during the July 14 edition of Fox News' The Fox Report, host Shepard Smith asserted of the hearings, "It was cordial but very tough -- at times uncomfortable to watch."

As Media Matters noted, in their July 14 evening news broadcasts, both ABC's World News and NBC's Nightly News reported Graham's citation of this anonymous criticism, but neither reported assessments that these comments were sexist or that the Almanac reported many positive comments about her.

In contrast with these reports, others in the media noted the charged nature of Graham's questioning or the biases reflected in the comments he read:

  • During CNN's July 14 coverage of the hearings, senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin commented: "[I]t's worth remembering that this is an anonymous survey, and all of us who have read blog comments -- I think we know that people in anonymous comments are often unduly hostile. And women in positions of power tend to be described in precisely these terms. You know, men are tough, women are shrill. Men are experienced; women are battle axes. And I think that's a little bit of this kind of commentary we got here."
  • On the July 14 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News contributor Lis Wiehl stated, "[D]on't forget, any lawyer that goes in front of her, who loses, is going to have a beef with her and say, 'Oh, she was terrible.' " She later added that the criticism of Sotomayor was "she was too tough, and that she was aggressive, which again is a, you know, male-female thing." Moments later, Fox News host Megyn Kelly stated: "In any event, I have to say in her defense, on the lawyer comments, there were only eight of them. If you only have -- to my knowledge -- if you only have eight lawyers going online to complain about you as a judge, I think you're doing OK. If you could hear some of the things that some of the judges said to me when I was practicing law, I would have loved to have gone online and complained about them anonymously. I wouldn't put too much stock in those anonymous comments."
  • On the July 14 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews criticized Graham's questioning: "Lindsey Graham loves John McCain -- has supported him so dutifully and wonderfully. But everybody knows John has -- can have a hot temper, which I do, too. A lot of people have them, but to say that he has a hot temper, and yet she needs anger management. ... That was condescending. He was telling somebody up for the Supreme Court, 'Now, you've got to work on this.' "
  • During the July 14 edition of MSNBC Live, co-host Tamron Hall said that "it's one thing to challenge her on the record" but that "[i]t is another, isn't it, to ask her about temperament? What do you mean by that? These are anonymous sources." Co-host David Shuster went on to add: "The possibility of patronizing, Tamron, with the idea that Lindsey Graham is suggesting to this very accomplished judge that she needs to reflect on something as a result of this hearing."

From the July 14 edition of MSNBC Live:

HALL: It's one thing to challenge her on the record. It's one thing to challenge her on that speech: "What did you mean by wise Latina?" It is another, isn't it, to ask her about temperament? What do you mean by that? These are anonymous sources. People are reading this as if -- and they have a right to do so since these senators are reading into her comments -- one might read into this that he's talking about her being a hot-blooded person or a woman who can't control her emotions.

[...]

SHUSTER: The possibility of patronizing, Tamron, with the idea that Lindsey Graham is suggesting to this very accomplished judge that she needs to reflect on something as a result of this hearing -- I mean, the blogs are already going crazy over this.

HALL: Yeah. It could be interpreted as taking a time-out, like a child. Cool out and clear your head and get your temperament together. But, again, we don't want to interpret what anyone has to say. I'm sure that Senator Graham will explain his line of questioning. He did say that she, barring a meltdown, would be confirmed, and he was very cordial to her. But, certainly, it takes one sentence to perk up ears, and you have those ears now perked up.

From the July 14 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:

BRET BAIER (host): Yeah, last thing, quickly. Are people talking about a comparison or a contrast to the last couple of Supreme Court confirmation hearings?

CAMERON: Boy, I'll tell you, John Roberts and Samuel Alito faced a very different Judiciary Committee, and it was very, very tough. Democrats came at them hard.

This has been largely cordial and civil, though pointed on a number of occasions.

From the July 14 edition of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:

COURIC: Good evening, everyone. The judge testifies in her own defense. With the opening round of speeches over, the Senate Judiciary Committee got down to the questions today for Sonia Sotomayor.

Her Republican critics were respectful but tough as they zeroed in on her most controversial comment that's been hanging out there since President Obama nominated her to the Supreme Court.

From the July 14 edition of CNN's Campbell Brown: No Bias No Bull:

BROWN: Day two of confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor. And, so far, the proceedings have pretty much been dominated by questions about what she meant when she said a wise Latina might make a better decision than a white man.

Listen to Senator Lindsey Graham and Judge Sotomayor today.

GRAHAM [video clip]: This wise Latino comment has been talked about a lot. But I can just tell you one thing: If I had said anything remotely like that, my career would have been over.

SOTOMAYOR [video clip]: I want to state up front, unequivocally and without doubt, I do not believe that any ethnic, racial, or gender group has an advantage in sound judging.

BROWN: Things have been pointed but, by and large, pretty civilized on Capitol Hill.

From the July 14 edition of Fox News' The Fox Report:

SMITH: Well, it was on TV all day long, and some Republicans really went after her. It was cordial but very tough -- at times uncomfortable to watch -- this political theater choreographed mostly for the folks back home.

From the July 14 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: Lindsey Graham loves John McCain -- has supported him so dutifully and wonderfully. But everybody knows John has -- can have a hot temper, which I do, too. A lot of people have them, but to say that he has a hot temper, and yet she needs anger management -- I'm sorry. You're laughing, 'cause he was tutoring her today.

That was condescending. He was telling somebody up for the Supreme Court, "Now, you've got to work on this."

From the July 14 edition of MSNBC Live:

SHUSTER: And, so, there we heard, Tamron, one of the most interesting exchanges, perhaps, of the day. Lindsey Graham, of course, not only exploring the issue of the death penalty and abortion, but he started it with something you were talking about yesterday. And that is one of the most dangerous political minefields for Republicans in this -- might have been the sort of whole way that Lindsey Graham approached the temperament issue. The idea that Judge Sotomayor's temperament is not fit to be on the court.

A number of critics have written to that extent. And the way that Lindsey Graham did that by suggesting, "Do you think you have a temperament problem?" and then putting Sotomayor on the spot, responding, "No." I would suggest, Tamron, that the way people view this might be pretty critical.

HALL: Well, it's interesting, David, because the issue of temperament came up with anonymous sources. I believe it was in the Post -- Washington Post that the story first came up. And you had many people who were going on the record -- friends and co-workers -- who say that she does not have a, quote, "temperament issue."

But let's bring in Chris Cillizza to talk more about this. Chris, what do you make of Senator Graham's comments, him bringing up, again, anonymous sources referring to this judge's temperament? People are really critical of this right now, and they're blogging about it.

CILLIZZA: Well, you know, I think Republicans, Tamron, have been surprisingly aggressive, actually, in their questioning. I think Jeff Sessions, the ranking member from Alabama, set the tone yesterday and then again today -- very pointedly questioning Sonia Sotomayor. I think that you saw Lindsey Graham in his own way -- if you -- I think if you polled the Judiciary Committee, Senator Graham would probably win in terms of the best lawyer-litigator. He's someone who's --

HALL: Yeah, but Chris -- I hate to interrupt you -- but, I mean, it's one thing to challenge her on the record. It's one thing to challenge her on that speech: "What did you mean by wise Latina?" It is another, isn't it, to ask her about temperament? What do you mean by that? These are anonymous sources. People are reading this as if -- and they have a right to do so since these senators are reading into her comments -- one might read into this that he's talking about her being a hot-blooded person or a woman who can't control her emotions.

[...]

SHUSTER: The possibility of patronizing, Tamron, with the idea that Lindsey Graham is suggesting to this very accomplished judge that she needs to reflect on something as a result of this hearing -- I mean, the blogs are already going crazy over this.

HALL: Yeah. It could be interpreted as taking a time-out, like a child. Cool out and clear your head and get your temperament together. But, again, we don't want to interpret what anyone has to say. I'm sure that Senator Graham will explain his line of questioning. He did say that she, barring a meltdown, would be confirmed, and he was very cordial to her. But, certainly, it takes one sentence to perk up ears, and you have those ears now perked up.

From the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor:

GRAHAM: Now, let's talk about you. I like you, by the way, for whatever that matters. Since I may vote for you that ought to matter to you.

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 overly aggressive, not very judicial. She does not have a very good temperament. She abuses lawyers. She really lacks judicial temperament. She believes in an out-of-control -- 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 2nd 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 argument.

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

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 2nd Circuit, because we only give litigants 10 minutes of oral argument each, that the processes in the 2nd 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 term of art lawyers use. It means that they're peppered with questions.

Lots of lawyers who are unfamiliar with the process in the 2nd Circuit find that tough bench difficult and challenging.

GRAHAM: If I may interject, Judge, they find you difficult and challenging more than your colleagues. And the only reason I mention this is that it stands out. When you, you know, there are many positive things about you, and these hearings are designed to talk about the good and the bad, and I never liked appearing before a judge that I thought was a bully. It's hard enough being a lawyer, having your client there to begin with, without the judge just beating you up for no good reason. Do you think you have a temperament problem?

SOTOMAYOR: No, sir. I can only talk about what I know about my relationship with the judges of my court and with the lawyers who appear regularly from our circuit. And I believe that my reputation is such that I ask the hard questions, but I do it evenly for both sides.

GRAHAM: And in fairness to you, there are plenty of statements in the record in support of you as a person, that do not go down this line.

But I would just suggest to you, for what it's worth, Judge, as you go forward here, that these statements about you are striking. They're not about your colleagues. You know, the 10-minute rule applies to everybody, and that, you know, obviously you've accomplished a lot in your life, but maybe these hearings are time for self-reflection. This is pretty tough stuff that you don't see from -- about other judges on the 2nd Circuit.

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