Confirmation hearing to begin for Sonia Sotomayor

WASHINGTON (AP) - Judiciary Committee senators kept up partisan
bickering Monday over whether Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor would render impartial justice as she stood on the cusp of a
historic confirmation hearing.

"I think philosophically her statements indicate an approach to
judging that is outside the mainstream," Sen. Jeff Sessions,
senior Judiciary Committee Republican, said in a nationally
broadcast interview. Appearing on another news show, Democrat Chuck Schumer declared: "She's not far left. She's not far right. She's

The pair summed up what undoubtedly will be a central theme of
confirmation hearings that were to be gaveled to order by 10 a.m.
EDT in a large hearing room of the Hart Senate Office Building.
Much of the initial time there will be consumed by speechmaking by
members of the panel chaired by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

There seems little argument that Sotomayor has no serious
roadblock, in practical terms, to becoming the first Hispanic and
the third woman to serve on the high court. Democrats control the
Judiciary panel by a 12-7 margin over Republicans and have the
necessary floor votes to elevate the 55-year-old New York native.

Leahy planned to kick off the proceedings with laudatory remarks
that also sought to firmly establish Sotomayor as a judge who
follows wherever the law leads her.

"In truth, we do not have to speculate about what kind of a
justice she will be because we have seen the kind of judge she has
been. She is a judge in which all Americans can have confidence.
She has been a judge for all Americans and will be a justice for
all Americans," Leahy said in excerpts of his statement that were
provided to The Associated Press.

Questioning of Sotomayor will wait for Tuesday.

In the nearly seven weeks since President Barack Obama nominated
Sotomayor to replace retiring Justice David Souter, critics have
labored without much success to exploit weaknesses in her record.
Republican senators also must take care to avoid offending Hispanic
voters, the fastest-growing segment of the electorate, by attacking
Sotomayor too harshly.

Sessions said Monday morning he feels there remains
"fundamental questions" about Sotomayor that he hopes will be
answered at the hearings.

He suggested a "disconnect" between her writings from the
federal appellate court bench and the speeches and articles she's
written. "Her record is better than her speeches," he said. "Her
speeches tend to reflect her philosophy. I think we have reason to
believe that philosophy will flower."

Sessions said Justice Ruth Ginsburg has been far more activist
on the high court bench than one could have predicted after
studying her previous legal record.

Said Schumer: "She is sort of moderate. ... She does not let
her own personal views interfere."

"The bottom line is, it's not going to be a problem," the New
York Democrat said. "When you have someone who has as extensive a
record as Judge Sotomayor, that is far and away the best way to
tell what kind of Supreme Court justice she'll be."

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, highlighted the potential political
pitfalls for Republicans when he noted on "Fox News Sunday" that
a third of his constituents are Hispanic and that they want
Sotomayor judged fairly.

Still, Republicans signaled that they will press Sotomayor to
explain past rulings involving discrimination complaints and gun
rights, as well as remarks that they say raise doubts about her
ability to judge cases fairly.

President Barack Obama called Sotomayor on Sunday to wish her
luck at the hearings, compliment her for making courtesy calls to
89 senators and express his confidence that she would win Senate
approval, the White House said.

The most fertile ground for Republican questioning appears to be
on race and ethnicity, focused on Sotomayor's "wise Latina"
comment and the white firefighters from New Haven, Conn., who won
their Supreme Court case last month.

In a speech in 2001, Sotomayor said she hoped a "wise Latina"
often would reach better conclusions than a white male without the
same life experience.

By a 5-4 vote last month, the high court agreed with the
firefighters, who claimed they were denied promotions on account of
their race after New Haven officials threw out test results because
too few minorities did well. The court reversed a decision by
Sotomayor and two other federal appeals court judges.

The two issues could allow Republicans to try to create the
impression that Sotomayor is a "prisoner of identity politics,"
said Cambridge University's David Garrow, an avid court watcher.

Sessions appeared on CBS's "The Early Show," and Schumer was
interviewed on MSNBC.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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