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Senator Once Denied a Judgeship Is Concerned About ‘Empathy’ Nominations

Posted Jun 16, 2009 6:59 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The tables are turned.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., was denied a seat on the federal bench in 1986 when Democratic critics accused him of racial insensitivity—charges he denied, CNNPolitics.com reported late last month. Now he is the top Republican senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee helping decide the fate of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

Sessions said on Monday he is concerned that President Obama is choosing “activist” judicial nominees who would push federal courts "far to the left," USA Today reports.

Sessions told USA TODAY and Gannett News Service that he is particularly concerned about Obama’s focus on selecting judges with empathy. “That’s very troubling,” Sessions said. “What does that mean? A judge takes an oath that they will do justice to the rich and the poor alike.”

His concern extends to Sonia Sotomayor. "She seems to be willing to accept that a judge's rulings may be influenced by the judge's personal backgrounds or feelings, which is sort of what President Obama has said," Sessions said. In particular he is concerned about Sotomayor’s past comment in which she said “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Sessions also mentioned three other nominees for U.S. Courts of Appeals: David Hamilton of Indiana for the Chicago-based 7th Circuit; Andre Davis of Maryland for the Richmond, Va.-based 4th Circuit; and Gerard Lynch of New York for the New York City-based 2nd Circuit. And he focused on two Hamilton rulings later reversed by appeals courts. One struck down a law requiring women considering abortions to get information on the risks. Another banned references to Jesus in opening prayers at the Indiana Legislature.

Sessions owes his top spot on the Judiciary Committee to a onetime Republican senator, Arlen Specter, who voted against him in the 1986 nomination fight. When Specter changed political parties in April and became a Democrat, Sessions replaced him as the leading Republican on the committee.

“It is ironic,” Sessions acknowledged in an interview with the Associated Press.

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