WASHINGTON — The White House delivered a huge portfolio of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's writings, speeches and rulings to Capitol Hill Wednesday, with details about the federal judge that will shape the debate over seating her on the court.
The massive parcel of documents came in response to a questionnaire the Senate Judiciary Committee sends all federal court nominees. It includes details on Sotomayor's personal and financial background, with copies of virtually everything she has said or written publicly, as well as an account of how President Barack Obama came to nominate her.
The Judiciary Committee has the first crack at evaluating Sotomayor's nomination in a set of high-profile hearings.
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There's little doubt that Sotomayor, Obama's first high court nominee, will be confirmed by the Democrat-controlled Senate. But Republicans are balking at Democratic efforts to ensure a speedy set of hearings and summertime vote for the appeals court judge, whose 17 years on the bench they say warrants a longer debate.
Sotomayor returned to Capitol Hill on Thursday for a third day of one-on-one visits with senators who will decide whether to confirm her. By week's end, she will have met with more than one-quarter of the Senate, and all but a few members of the Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the Judiciary Committee chairman, wants hearings to begin next month, with the goal of holding a confirmation vote before Congress leaves in early August for a monthlong summer vacation. He's negotiating with the top Republican on the committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who says he'd rather go slower in delving into Sotomayor's voluminous record, with hearings set for September.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Wednesday he wouldn't impose an "arbitrary deadline" on Sotomayor's confirmation, but added, "We're going to do this as quickly as we can."
Reid, sporting a button on his lapel that said "Sonia" at a news conference with Hispanic leaders to promote Sotomayor, declined to say whether he thought the GOP was trying to slow down the process.
If confirmed, Sotomayor, 54, would be the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the court.
The White House is keeping up a steady drumbeat in support of Sotomayor, even dispatching first lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday to trumpet her in a high school graduation speech.
But the judge was still under fire for a 2001 speech in which she said she hoped the rulings of a "wise Latina" would be better than those of a white male without similar experiences.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in light of the comments, she has to prove to senators and the public "that, if they found themselves in litigation with a Latina woman ... that she would give you a fair shake."
Democrats tried to defuse the criticism by circulating a 1994 speech in which Sotomayor spoke about how personal characteristics could affect judging, which Republicans never criticized during the 1997 debate on her confirmation to a federal appeals court — proof, the Democrats said, that conservatives are trying to politicize Sotomayor's nomination.
In 1994, Sotomayor said, "I would hope that a wise woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion" than a wise man. "What is better?" she said. "I ... hope that better will mean a more compassionate, caring conclusion."
"No one made an issue out of Judge Sotomayor's comments the last time the Senate confirmed her for the federal bench, because everyone understood what she meant and knew her respect for the rule of law was unquestionable," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Sotomayor's home-state senator and her sponsor during the confirmation process, said Wednesday.
Republicans said that the 1994 speech only proves that Sotomayor actually believes the controversial sentiment she restated seven years later and that Obama and the White House were being disingenuous when they suggested she made a poor choice of words in 2001.
Wendy Long of the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network said the remark is evidently part of Sotomayor's "stump speech," and a "well-considered theme" in her legal thinking.
"The White House must now acknowledge that this is a hardened view of Sotomayor's, rejecting impartiality and neutral judging, that it is now impossible to spin away," Long said in a statement.