Court tapes show blunt combative Sotomayor

Sen. Lindsey Graham read off some of the terms lawyers used to describe Judge Sonia Sotomayor: “A terror,” “angry,” “aggressive,” and “a bully.”

“You stand out like a sore thumb in terms of your temperament,” Graham told Sotomayor at her Supreme Court confirmation hearings this week.

“I do ask tough questions at oral arguments,” Sotomayor replied. “And some lawyers do find that our court, which is not just me, but our court generally, is described as a ‘hot bench.’ ”

But what is a “hot bench” anyway? And how hot was it? The task of disentangling tough from obnoxious, probing from abusive is a very subjective one – even, evidently, for the seasoned litigators (no fainting violets they) who make the bulk of the appearances in the Second Circuit’s shiny, secure new courthouse in lower Manhattan.

The Second Circuit recently provided audio recordings of oral arguments — some of which have never been published — from four of Sotomayor’s better-known cases, and snippets of a fifth, in response to a request from POLITICO, and the exchanges themselves – far better than any written impressions – offer a glimpse of her style as an appellate judge, and the Supreme Court Justice she’s likely to be.

The tapes reveal a blunt judge who talks as much or more than her (often equally combative) colleagues; who makes no bones about interrupting or even, in one case, laughing at lawyers; and who goes to no great length to disguise her quarrel with an argument or her point of view.

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