The Campaign Spot

Without a Precedent, Sotomayor Has a Hard Time Expressing an Opinion

Sotomayor and Sen. Tom Coburn just had a very interesting back-and-forth on whether or not citizens have a right to self-defense. I’d describe it as spirited, but not hostile.

Coburn asks if a person is guaranteed the right to self-defense. Sotomayor says she can’t remember any previous case that dealt with that question.

Coburn, mildly frustrated, says he’s not interested in the case law and precedents, but what your personal opinion? (I can see lefties arguing that her personal opinions are irrelevant if she’s basing her decisions on precedent. But at the Supreme Court, if she thinks that no precedent establishes that right, it doesn’t exist; if there is a precedent, Americans can.)

Coburn: “What I’m trying to get at is, is it okay to defend yourself in your home?” (Shades of my question yesterday: “Yes, but what do you think?“)

Sotomayor: “I know it’s difficult to deal with someone whose thinking is so cornered by the law.”

Coburn: “Kind of like a doctor, I can’t quit using doctor terms.”

She says judges need to be “very cautious” in citing foreign law or other cases. Coburn asks where in her oath or in the Constitution it gives her the authority to cite foreign law.

“My speech and my record . . . I’ve never used it [foreign law, presumably] to interpret the Constitution or statute . . . Unless the statute, foreign law cannot be used as a holding or as a precedent as a binding or to influence the outcome if U.S. law directs you.”

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