MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Among the senators who will be conducting those confirmation hearings is Charles Grassley of Iowa. He is one of the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Grassley, welcome to the program.
Senator CHARLES GRASSLEY (Republican, Iowa): Oh, I'm glad to be with you. Thank you for the invite.
BLOCK: And as you well know, Judge Sotomayor is no stranger to the Senate. You voted against her back in 1998, when she was nominated to the court of appeals. Is there any reason to think that your vote might go the other way this time?
Sen. GRASSLEY: Sure. Not certain that I will but I don't - couldn't say otherwise, and thank God there's journalists like you that reminded me I voted against her…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Sen. GRASSLEY: …ten years ago because I didn't remember that…
BLOCK: You didn't remember that?
Sen. GRASSLEY: Her vote was not significant at the time. I hope I have a speech in the Congressional Record so I can go back and understand my rationale for voting against her. I've cast 5,000 votes since then, and I don't remember every one of them. But thanks to you journalists who told me that I did. Now, I would say that I owe her, I owe the president, and I owe the American people a chance for her to state her views of the law and of the Constitution, and to make a decision, as I would in several other nominees for the court or even Cabinet positions. I usually say, I wait until the hearing is over to make up my mind because what's the purpose of having a hearing if you're going to make up your mind ahead of time?
BLOCK: Would it be fair to say that her years of legal experience are not an issue here? I mean, the president made a point of saying that Judge Sotomayor brings more experience on the bench than anyone currently serving on the U.S. Supreme Court had when they were appointed.
Sen. GRASSLEY: I can say that I am glad that he has appointed somebody with that sort of experience because it gives us, as senators, an opportunity to review the record. She's more of an open book than somebody who would have come, let's say, from college of law to the court, or other people like that.
BLOCK: I want to ask you about some talking points that conservative activists are circulating, and they include a lecture that Judge Sotomayor gave back in 2002. She was talking about Latino and Latina presence in the judiciary. And she said this: The aspiration to impartiality is just that. It denies the fact that we are, by our experiences, making different choices than others. And she went on to say: I simply do not know what that difference will be in my judging, but I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage. What do you make of that?
Sen. GRASSLEY: Well, I would suggest, you know, as a practical matter, I'd have to say as a Unites States senator, the fact that I'm from the Midwest, the fact that I'm a family farmer - it does have some impact on your decision- making. But I think I'm a policymaker. But I like to think of a justice of the Supreme Court being similar in their action as to the blindfold of Lady Justice over the court of the Supreme Court.
She holds the scales of justice. I like to see a Supreme Court justice who is in a sense blindfolded, looking at the narrow parameters of the law and the Constitution, and making a decision not having the bias that maybe a policy maker like myself would have.
BLOCK: Do you think there is some value to having diversity on the court? Is there value in having another woman and the first Hispanic - or is that irrelevant, do you think?
Sen. GRASSLEY: I don't think it's irrelevant. But I do think that more women and more people of minority are very, very important. But, you know, I have to look at that the same way a lot of Democrats looked at Clarence Thomas when he was appointed to the Supreme Court. The president said about Sotomayor today that she - her background and her experience and her Hispanic background are very, very important. I thought they were very, very important having an African-American like Thomas on the Supreme Court.
But just think of the people that attacked him for not taking that into consideration. And so, I think you have to look at what I think is the most important, and that is judicial temperament, scholarly background, and looking at the case or looking at your position in a nonbiased way.
BLOCK: And briefly, Senator Grassley, do you give some weight to the political argument that Republicans simply can't afford to alienate Hispanic voters by rejecting this nominee?
Sen. GRASSLEY: Oh, I don't think I have to take that into consideration any more than Democrats took that into consideration. They didn't mind upsetting the Hispanic community when they took on Estrada, as an example.
BLOCK: Senator Grassley, thank you very much.
Sen. GRASSLEY: Goodbye, thank you.
BLOCK: That's Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa.