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Key Excerpt: Coburn and Sotomayor on Separation of Powers

Courtesy of CQ Transcriptions

SEN. COBURN: I guess my question to you is, do -- do you have any concerns, as we now have a $3.6 trillion budget, $11.4 trillion worth of debt, $90 trillion worth of unfunded obligations that are going to be placed on the back of our children, that maybe some reining in of Congress in terms of the general welfare clause, the commerce clause, and reinforcement of the 10th Amendment under its intended purposes by our founders, which said that everything that was not specifically listed in the enumerated powers was left to the states and the people -- do you have any concerns about where we're heading in this nation and the obligations of the Supreme Court may be to re-look at what Madison and our founders intended as they wrote these clauses into our Constitution?

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: One of the beauties of our Constitution is the very question that you asked me: Is the dialogue that's left in the first instance to this body and the House of Representatives?

The answer to that question is not mine in the abstract. The answer to that question is a discussion that this legislative body will come to an answer about as reflected in the laws it will pass. And once it passes those laws, there may be individuals who have rights to challenge those laws and will come to us and ask us to examine what the Constitution says about what Congress did.

But it is the great beauty of this nation that we do leave those lawmaking to our elected branches and that we expect our courts to understand its limited role, but important role, in ensuring that the Constitution is upheld in every situation...

COBURN: So...

SOTOMAYOR: ... that's presented to it.

COBURN: I believe our founders thought that the Supreme Court would be the check and balance on the commerce clause, the general welfare clause, and the insurance of the 10th Amendment, and that's the reason I raised those issues with you.

I wonder if you think we've honored the plain language of the Constitution and the intent of the founders with regard to the limited power granted to the federal government.

SOTOMAYOR: That's almost a judgment call. I don't know how to answer your question, because it would seem like it would lead to the natural question: Did the courts do this in this case? And that would be opining on a particular view of a case, and that case would have a holding, and I would have to look at that holding in the context of another case.

I'm attempting to answer your question, Senator, but our roles and the ones we choose to serve -- your job is wonderful. It is so, so important. But I love that you're doing your job, and I love that I'm doing my job as a judge. I like mine better.

Read the full exchange between Sen. Coburn and Judge Sotomayor here.

By Washington Post editors  |  July 16, 2009; 1:20 PM ET
Categories:  Hearings , Supreme Court , Topics: Separation of Powers  
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