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Key Excerpt: Kobuchar and Sotomayor on U.S. v. Giordano

Courtesy of CQ Transcriptions

SEN. KLOBUCHAR: And one last case I wanted to ask you about, which the chairman had briefly mentioned in his opening, and it was a troubling case because it involved an elected official. It was U.S. v. Giordano, and this case when you -- happened when you were a judge.

And it involved very troubling facts with the mayor of Waterbury, Connecticut in a variety of crimes stemming from his repeated sexual abuse of a minor daughter and a niece and of a prostitute. And you wrote for the majority in that case. There was actually a dissent from one of your fellow judges on the Second Circuit.

And you held, in part, that the mayor could, in fact, be charged with the separate crime of violating the young girl's civil rights under color of state law. And I think -- and I don't want to put words in your mouth, but the reason you were able to use that theory is that you note how frequently the mayor reiterated to his young victims that they would be in trouble with law enforcement if they didn't submit to what he wanted them to do.

Could you talk about how that case fits in to your overall approach to judging?

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: As I have indicated, the role of a judge is to look at Congress' words in a statute and discern its intent. And in cases that present you facts, you must take existing precedents and apply the teachings of those precedents to those new facts.

In the Giordano case, that had been another situation quite like this one. This was a mayor who, working through a woman, secured sexual acts by very young girls that were taking place in his office. And through the woman he was working with and also through his own exhortations, don't tell anybody or you'll get into trouble, and the woman's exhortations to the child, the person he was conspiring with, that they would get in trouble with the police because the police wouldn't believe them. They would believe him because he was a mayor.

The question for the court became is that acting under color the state law. Is he using his office to promote this illegal activity against these young girls? The majority viewing these facts said yes, that's the principles we discern from precedent about what the use of state law -- of acting color of state law means.

The dissent disagreed, and it disagreed using its own rationale about why the law should not be read that way. But these are cases that rely upon an understanding both of what the words say and how precedent has interpreted them. And that's what the majority of the panel did in that case.

Continue reading the exchange between Sen. Klobuchar and Judge Sotomayor here.

By Washington Post editors  |  July 16, 2009; 10:50 AM ET
Categories:  Hearings , Supreme Court , Topics: U.S. v. Giordano  
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