GOP faces political juggle with Sotomayor
Republicans praise nominee but it's uncertain whether they'll vote for her
Sotomayor pledges impartial justice
July 13: Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor tells senators, My personal and professional experiences help me listen and understand, with the law always commanding the result in every case."
By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS
Associated Press Writer
updated 3:54 p.m. PT, Mon., July 13, 2009
WASHINGTON - It's a delicate chore. Republicans, seeing their best chance to make big points with the American public since Barack Obama won the White House, are trying to strike just the right balance in criticizing Sonia Sotomayor without alienating Hispanics and women.
For much of the day Monday, Sotomayor's first before the Senate panel weighing her Supreme Court nomination, that meant Republicans went out of their way to praise her personal story and accomplishments. They directed their fiercest fire not toward the judge but toward Obama and his comment made before nominating her that he wanted a justice with "the quality of empathy."
"The Hispanic element of this hearing is important, but I don't want it to be lost this is mostly about liberal and conservative politics," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
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He predicted that Sotomayor, who would be the first Latina on the high court, would be confirmed "barring a meltdown." He even signaled it might be with his vote, since "President Obama won the election, and I respect that."
Obama did so with about two-thirds of the nation's Hispanic vote.
Tough task for GOP
Still, it's tough for the GOP to separate the judge's personal characteristics from the debate over her confirmation. The scene in the packed Capitol Hill hearing room reinforced that point. The all-white, all-male Republican contingent on the Judiciary Committee faced an accomplished Hispanic woman who, on top of everything else, has a broken ankle that has her limping through Senate hallways and occasionally elevating her foot to prevent swelling.
So senators went hard after Obama while saying nice things about his nominee. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., was a case in point.
Kyl said he hoped "every American is proud that a Hispanic woman has been nominated to sit on the Supreme Court," but minutes later he accused Obama of being "simply outside the mainstream in his statements about how judges should decide cases."
And Sotomayor? For all her admirable qualities, Kyl suggested she "may indeed allow and even embrace decision-making based on her biases and prejudices."
Republicans' statements about Sotomayor were designed carefully to suggest that far from being a victim of prejudice herself, the judge might be a practitioner of it on the bench.
Outside the hearing room, GOP strategists were more aggressive in making the point. Republican Senate officials sent out e-mail blasts headlined "Confirmation Conversion" that accused Sotomayor of flip-flopping on issues such as impartiality, the effect her experiences have had on her judging, and adherence to the law.
'This extraordinary woman'
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee's Democratic chairman, opened the hearings with pointed warnings to Republicans. Criticize her at your own risk, he seemed to say.
"Those who break barriers often face the added burden of overcoming prejudice," Leahy said, recalling how the Supreme Court's first black, Jew and Catholic all faced racial and religious bias during their confirmation hearings. "Let no one demean this extraordinary woman."
GOP leaders acknowledge the sensitivity of their task. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the committee's top Republican, started the day by saying his side had to strike a balance between overreaching and coming across as mere decoration, a "potted plant."
Republicans argue privately that their only hope for benefiting politically from Sotomayor's confirmation hearings is if they're able to put Democrats from conservative-leaning states in a tough position for backing her.
To that end, they'll focus on charges by gun rights activists that Sotomayor is hostile to the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The issue is a powerful one for some voters across the political spectrum.
"Americans need to know whether you would limit ... the scope of the Second Amendment and whether we can count on you to uphold one of the fundamental liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Of course Cornyn, who leads his party's campaign committee and whose own constituents are one-third Hispanic, is as conscious as anyone that he can't come across as targeting Sotomayor because of her race or gender.
"Your nomination," Cornyn said, "should make us all feel good as Americans."
Sotomayor confirmation hearing excerpts
Some excerpts from comments during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
"I would trust that all members of this committee here today will reject the efforts of partisans and outside pressure groups that sought to create a caricature of Judge Sotomayor while belittling her record and achievements, her intelligence. ... Let no one demean this extraordinary woman."
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
"I will not vote for no senator should vote for an individual nominated by any president who believes it is acceptable for a judge to allow their own personal background, gender, prejudices, or sympathies to sway their decision in favor of, or against, parties before the court."
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.
"One attack that I find particularly shocking is the suggestion that she will be biased against some litigants because of her racial and ethnic heritage. This charge is not based on anything in her judicial record because there is absolutely nothing in the hundreds of opinions she has written to support it."
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa
"The Supreme Court is meant to be a legal institution, not a political one. But some individuals and groups don't see it that way. They see the Supreme Court as ground zero for their political and social battles. They want justices to implement their political and social agenda through the judicial process."
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
"We cannot simply brush aside her extra-judicial statements. Until now, Judge Sotomayor has been operating under the restraining influence of a higher authority the Supreme Court. If confirmed, there will be no such restraint that would prevent her from to paraphrase President Obama deciding cases based on her heartfelt views."
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
"First, as we will hear in the next few days, Judge Sotomayor puts rule of law above everything else. Given her extensive and evenhanded record, I am not sure how any member of this panel can sit here today and seriously suggest that she comes to the bench with a personal agenda."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah
"There must be a vigorous debate about the kind of judge America needs, because nothing less than our liberty is at stake. Must judges set aside, or may judges consider, their personal feelings in deciding cases? Is judicial impartiality a duty or an option?"
Source: The Associated Press Print this