Murkowski presses Sotomayor about past remarks
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Thursday she was pleased to hear Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor say she "looks to the law first" when making legal decisions, but the Alaska Republican also said she remains undecided on whether she will vote to confirm President Barack Obama's first high court pick.
Murkowski met Thursday with Sotomayor, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge for the Second Circuit who could become the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice. Her confirmation hearings begin July 13 in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sotomayor has been meeting with a series of senators in advance of her confirmation hearings, which are set to begin July 13 in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Murkowski and Sotomayor, each recently hobbled by injuries, shared a footstool and commiserated over their limited mobility during their one-hour meeting. Murkowski, who injured her knee skiing this winter and now is wearing a brace, propped her leg next to Sotomayor, who is wearing a cast on the ankle she fractured earlier this month.
"That's a Capitol moment," Murkowski joked as photographers snapped pictures of the two women with their injured legs resting on the footstool.
Murkowski said after the meeting that "overall, it was a very good conversation." Murkowski said she asked Sotomayor directly about what she meant when she said in speech that that a "wise Latina" might reach better legal decision than others from less diverse upbringings. Sotomayor's remarks have been a point of contention for many Republicans, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had to retract his remarks after calling Sotomayor a racist.
"When she was talking about how she arrives at some of her decisions, I asked: 'How do you make the separation from your personal experiences, your life experiences?'" Murkowski said. "And I specifically brought up the phrase that has generated some level of controversy. And she talked about that at some length, about how who we are allows you to have certain antennae that listen. That kinds of sensitize you to issues. It doesn't direct you to make decisions one way or another, but allows for a series of antennas, which was the word she used."
Murkowski said she thought Sotomayor's response was instructive in learning how the nominee comes to decisions on the cases in front of her.
"My initial reaction coming from this meeting is that she is a very thoughtful woman, clearly very learned," Murkowski said.
Murkowski also said she made it clear to Sotomayor how important Second Amendment freedoms are to the people she represents in Alaska. Sotomayor spoke in generalities about the Supreme Court's decision last year in the Heller case, which overturned Washington D.C.'s gun ban. Murkowski said she asked whether the individual rights protected in the Heller decision would apply to states as well.
"I kind of prefaced my question about the Second Amendment," Murkowski said. "In a state like Alaska, independent people are very passionate about many things but most certainly, they're supportive of the Second Amendment. I stated that Alaskans are very concerned about their ability to provide for their own defense."
"Where I think our conversation tended more towards is how she processed what she had before her," Murkowski said. "Overall, it was a very constructive conversation."
Although Murkowski is not a member of the Judiciary committee, she said Thursday she takes seriously her vote on Sotomayor's confirmation.
"My vote on the floor is just as significant as a member of the Judiciary's vote on the floor," she said. "So I've got some homework to do. But having a one-on-one is very, very helpful."
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, also is not on the Judiciary Committee, but will likely have his meeting with Sotomayor next week.
SUPREME COURT: Senator and nominee discuss constitution.