WASHINGTON – About 400 members of the public managed to gain admittance to the first day of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's Senate confirmation hearing Monday.
But not all at once. Most seats in the hearing room were reserved for reporters and VIPs. Sotomayor's friends and relatives occupied one row of seats.
Members of the public rotated into the room in groups of about 20,allowed to stay for approximately 20 minutes. Most heard opening statements by the 19 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee,each of whom spoke for 10 minutes.
To gain entry,members of the public had to get numbered tickets from a booth near the Senate offices in the morning. The numbers corresponded to a time at which the ticket holder could return to be shown into the hearing room,although entry times changed throughout the day.
Seated in two rows in the back of a long room in the Hart Senate Office Building,some craned their necks to get a look at Sotomayor and the committee members. Others watched the monitors on the sides of the room,while most resigned themselves to listening.
The senators were interrupted four times by protesters shouting anti-abortion statements. Each time,security officers removed the offender from the room,and committee Chairman Patrick Leahy,D-Vt.,reminded everyone that no disruptions would be tolerated. The room then returned to the comparative quiet of reporters typing and snapping pictures while committee members discussed Sotomayor,who sat at the witness table listening.
University of Maryland student Jeremy Zisholtz,22,said he got his entry ticket at 9 a.m. but had to wait until after 2 p.m. to get in.
“It was torture,but it was worth it in the end,” he said.
Some were there to support the nominee,wearing blue “Sonia” buttons or “Confirm her” stickers.
Lloyd Wagner,50,a radiologist from Santa Monica,Calif.,brought his sons,Alex,13,and Josh,10,to the hearing as part of their Washington vacation. He said the boys are both interested in government and “wanted to be part of this historic event.”
He said he had goose bumps during the hearing and called it “a very profound experience.”
Wagner said he was glad he had been able to stay for the entirety of Sotomayor's opening statement,being part of the last group of observers,but felt bad for those who had hoped to get in later in the afternoon.
The public was at the mercy of the committee's decisions; observing sessions were delayed for a lunch break,and when Leahy called for a recess about 3 p.m.,those with later tickets were out of luck.
Both Wagner and Zisholtz said they would like to come back later in the week if possible. The hearing is expected to last through Thursday.