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Key Excerpt: Feingold and Sotomayor on Individual Rights and Liberties After 9/11

CQ Transcriptions

FEINGOLD: Let me get into a topic that I discussed at length with -- with two most recent Supreme Court nominees, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, and that's the issue of executive power.

In 2003, you spoke at a law school class about some of the legal issues that have arisen since 9/11. You started your remarks with a moving description of how Americans stood together in the days after those horrific events and how people from small, Midwestern towns and people from New York City found their common threads as Americans, you said.

As you said in that speech, while it's hard to imagine that something positive could ever result from such a tragedy, that there was a sense in those early days of coming together as one community, that we would all help each other get through this.

And it was, of course, something that none of us had ever experienced before and something I've often discussed, as well. But what I have to also say is that, in the weeks and months that followed, I was gravely disappointed that the events of that awful day, the events that had brought us so close together as one nation, were sometimes used, Judge, to justify policies that departed so far from what America stands for.

So I'm going to ask you some questions that I asked now-Chief Justice Roberts at his hearing. Did that day, 9/11, change your view of the importance of individual rights and civil liberties and how they can be protected?

SOTOMAYOR: September 11th was a horrific tragedy for all of the victims of that tragedy and for the nation. I was in New York. My home is very close to the World Trade Center. I spent days not being able to drive a car into my neighborhood because my neighborhood was used as a staging area for emergency trucks.

The issue of the country's safety and the consequences of that great tragedy are the subject of continuing discussion among not just senators, but the whole nation.

In the end, the Constitution, by its terms, protects certain individual rights. That protection is often fact-specific. Many of its terms are very broad. So what's an unreasonable search and seizure? What are other questions or facts specific?

But in answer to your specific question, did it change my view of the Constitution? No, sir, the Constitution is a timeless document. It was intended to guide us through decades, generation after generation, to everything that would develop in our country.

It has protected us as a nation. It has inspired our survival. That doesn't change.

SOTOMAYOR: I'm a historian by undergraduate training. I also love history books. It's amazing how difficult it is to make judgments about one's current positions. That's because history permits us to look back and to examine the actual consequences that have arisen, and then judgments are made.

As a judge today, all I can do, because I'm not part of the legislative branch -- it's the legislative branch who has the responsibility to make laws consistent with that branch's view of constitutional requirements and its powers.

It's up to the president to take his actions. And then, it's up to the court to just examine each situation as it arises.

Read the entire exchange between Sen. Feingold and Judge Sotomayor. Read more on individual rights.

By washingtonpost.com  |  July 14, 2009; 2:56 PM ET
Categories:  Hearings , Supreme Court , Topics: Individual Rights  
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