Graham In Translation: A Field Guide To Condescension In The Sotomayor Hearings

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee continue to query Sonia Sotomayor about the motivations and meanings behind various statements she's made, but what are the hidden messages behind their interrogations? After the jump, a translation, starring the awful Lindsey Graham.






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

[Translation: Despite your years of experience as a lawyer and judge, what really matters is whether I personally like 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 is nasty to lawyers." "She'll 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?

[Translation: Please respond to anonymous complaints that are not related to any specific statement or decision. After that, can we talk about what it says on the wall in the Second Circuit bathroom?]

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: I do ask tough questions at oral arguments.

SEN. GRAHAM:
Are you the only one that asks tough questions in oral arguments?

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: No, 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 arguments 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 a 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.

SEN. 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?

[Translation: I really hate it when someone hounds me with baseless criticisms. That's really mean, don't you agree?]

JUDGE 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.

SEN. GRAHAM: 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 a time for self-reflection. This is pretty tough stuff that you don't see from — about other judges on the 2nd Circuit.

[Translation: Time for you to go in the corner and think about what you've done.]

[...]

I think for a long time a lot of talented women were asked, "Can you type?" And we're trying to get beyond that and improve as a nation. So when it comes to the idea that we should consciously try to include more people in the legal process and the judicial process from different backgrounds, count me in.

[Translation: You know those sexists, back in ancient history? I just want you to know I'm totally better than them.]

But your speeches don't really say that to me. They — along the lines of what Senator Kyl was saying, they kind of represent the idea, "There's a day coming when there'll be more of us women and minorities, and we're going to change the law."

[Translation: I'm thinking Invasion of the Body Snatchers here.]

And what I hope we'll take away from this hearing is they — need to be more women and minorities in the law to make a better America. And the law needs to be there for all of us if and when we need it.

And the one thing that I've tried to impress upon you, through jokes and being serious, is the consequences of these words in the world in which we live in. You know, we're talking about putting you on the Supreme Court and judging your fellow citizens. And one of the things that I need to be assured of is that you understand the world as it pretty much really is.

[Translation: You did know you've been nominated for the Supreme Court, right? Good, just checking.]

And we got a long way to go in this country. And I can't find the quote, but I'll find it here in a moment, the "wise Latino" (sic/Latina) quote. (Pause.) Do you remember it? (Laughter.)

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: Yes.

SEN. GRAHAM: Okay. Say it to me. Can you recite it from memory?

[Translation: And can you also write it on the board a hundred times, during recess?]

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: I —

SEN. GRAHAM: I got it.

[Translation: Haha, beat you!]

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: (Laughs.)

SEN. GRAHAM:
All right. "I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experience, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male."

And the only reason I keep talking about this is that I'm in politics, and you got to watch what you say, because, one, you don't want to offend people you're trying to represent — but do you understand, ma'am, that if I had said anything like that, and my reasoning was that I'm trying to inspire somebody, they would have had my head? Do you understand that?

[Translation: One possible interpretation of this question is that if Graham said he was a wise Latina woman, everyone would think he was insane, and would "have his head" examined. For a more likely, if less amusing translation, see below.]

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR:
I do understand how those words could be taken that way, particularly if read in isolation.

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I don't know how else you could take it. If Lyndsey Graham said that I will make a better senator than X because of — my experience as a Caucasian male makes me better able to represent the people of South Carolina, and my opponent was a minority, it would make national news, and it should.

[Translation: How come minorities get to do things I can't do? It's supposed to be the other way around.]

Having said that, I am not going to judge you by that one statement. I just hope you'll appreciate the world in which we live in, that you can say those things meaning to inspire somebody and still have a chance to get on the Supreme Court. Others could not remotely come close to that statement and survive. Whether that's right or wrong, I think that's a fact.

Does that make sense to you?

[Translation: I'm going to let you get away with it — this time. But remember, as a Latina you have many special privileges that I don't have, like an underprivileged background.]

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: It does. And I would hope that we come in America to the place where we can look at a statement that could be misunderstood and consider it in the context of the person's life and the work they have done.

SEN. GRAHAM: You know what? If that comes of this hearing, the hearing has been worth it all; that some people deserve a second chance when they misspeak and you would look at the entire life story to determine whether this is an aberration or just a reflection of your real soul. If that comes from this hearing, then we've probably done the country some good.

[Translation: I'm so generous that I'm going to pretend you didn't mean that thing about your background informing your decisions, which obviously no white man would ever allow his background to do. But if we find out you did mean it, young lady, then it's back to the time-out corner for you!]

• • • • •

Note: Our translators relied on auxiliary material regarding gender bias in evaluating judges, Lindsey Graham's bullying (especially in contrast to his deference at the Alito hearings), and "how [Graham's] world works" in compiling their extremely scientific translations. Also, visit True/Slant for another translation, this one visual.

Sotomayor Hearing Transcript: Graham's Questions [NYT]
Slate's Dialogue On The Sotomayor Hearings [Slate]
Sen. Lindsey Graham Bullies Sotomayor - While Accusing Her Of Being Bully [Talking Points Memo]
Sen. Graham's "Temperament" At Sotomayor's Confirmation Hearings [Feministing]
Let Me Tell You A Thing Or Two [Double X]
Lindsey Graham Vs Sonia Sotomayor [True/Slant]