As Republicans Lift Voices on Abortion, Sotomayor Gets Quiet

As Republican senators speak up on abortion, the Supreme Court nominee gets quiet on the issue.


On the abortion front, I'm struck by two dynamics at work in Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings. One: Republicans are attacking the idea of a constitutional right to abortion with a unity and forthrightness not seen in years, grilling Sotomayor on how the Constitution could be construed to contain such a right.

[See photos of Sotomayor's hearings.]

Two: As Republicans lift their voices on the issue, Sotomayor is evading all questions about her personal views on abortion. While recognizing that she considers Roe v. Wade to be settled law, Sotomayor has gone out of her way to obscure her personal position, disavowing signs that abortion rights supporters and opponents have taken as evidence of her pro-abortion rights views.

When Texas Sen. John Cornyn asked Sotomayor about reports that the Obama White House sought reassurances that she supported abortion rights, she said the news media got it wrong: "I was asked no question by anyone, including the president, about my views on any specific legal issue."

Following the lead of opponents of abortion rights, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham latched onto Sotomayor's 12-year stint on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund to suggest that Sotomayor is a staunch abortion rights supporter. After all, the group filed a slew of briefs supporting abortion rights during Sotomayor's tenure. But the judge wouldn't bite. "I never reviewed those briefs," she said.

And when Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn posed her some hypothetical abortion cases, Sotomayor demurred. "I can't answer . . . because I can't look at it in the abstract. . . . I probably couldn't opine because I'm sure that situation might well arise before the court," she said.

Yes, this kind of evasion has become standard for Supreme Court nominees of both parties. But it raises serious questions about how Sotomayor would rule on abortion-related cases.

Sotomayor is not going to vote to overturn Roe. But her obfuscating on other abortion-related questions raises questions about how she'd rule on restrictions on late-term abortions and on consent laws. And those are the kind of cases—as opposed to direct challenges to Roe—that would be more likely to come before her on the Supreme Court.

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