At this point, the dynamics of the battle over Sonia Sotomayor are clear: The GOP will continue to hammer Sotomayor on her previous statements on race, gender and judging, and Sotomayor will continue to assert her impartiality, patiently repeating the refrain, “As a judge, I don’t make policy," and that she decides her cases based on "fidelity to the law."

Sotomayor's repeated explanations of her comments have not dissuaded GOP senators from making the same demands, and there were certainly moments when it seemed as though Sotomayor was tired of having to repeat herself--or of having to reiterate basic civics to experienced legislators, such as the difference between circuit and district courts.

Not all of the Republican questioning consisted of badgering--Orrin Hatch in particular, did not interrupt Sotomayor and seemed to be giving her a change to explain herself rather than merely asking rhetorical questions. Arlen Specter was at his best--he neither asked softballs like his new, Democratic colleagues or badgered Sotomayor like his former, Republican ones. In a particularly gracious moment, he reflected on her controversial speeches and said, “A woman might want to assert her competency in a country where women were denied the right to vote for decades...I can see how someone would take pride in being a Latina woman and might want to assert herself.”

There's another aspect to this war of attrition: Sotomayor's long, technical explanations of her views--which, according to legal observers, mimic her opinions. Sotomayor answers each question speaking slowly, deliberately, and exhaustively--the mark of someone who has spent a lifetime confronting double-standards, a person who refuses to give her detractors an inch of rope to hang her with. This is light-years away from the conservative characterization of Sotomayor as someone who reached her station in life through "preferential treatment." People who are the regular recipients of preferential treatment are entitled, sometimes even arrogant. Sotomayor is so used to the hard way, the long slog, that she opts to take that road in each instance, even when she doesn't have to. She is wearing her questioners down, and while they have begun to show visible signs of frustration and impatience, Sotomayor doesn't seem like she's going to crack. If Republican Senators actually believed that Sotomayor was "unqualified," that she's an intellectual lightweight who could be easily outmaneuvered, they're beginning to be disabused of that notion.

-- A. Serwer

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