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The Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday announced that confirmation hearings to consider the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court will begin on July 13, 2009.
Sotomayor, President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the seat of retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter, has held one-on-one meetings with key Democratic and Republican members of the Judiciary Committee that must confirm her nomination before it goes before the full Senate.
Last week, the White House delivered to the committee the responses to a questionnaire and supporting documents that every judicial nominee must provide, detailing their speeches and writings, including unpublished rulings, and personal and financial information.
When Obama announced the nomination last month, he recalled his campaign pledge to choose someone who possesses a broad range of life experiences and would bring empathy to the bench. What he didn’t mention are the political benefits of a choice that is at once historic and energizing for the Democratic Party and has the added value of putting Republicans on the defensive. After two debilitating election cycles, they can ill afford to risk alienating the nation’s fastest growing demographic, which during the 2008 presidential election withdrew much of its support for the party. And it also pits the GOP’s far-right wing and moderates against each other at a time when the party is experiencing an identity crisis.
That didn’t stop the attacks from flying, even before the nomination was formally announced. Conservatives have painted Sotomayor as a reverse racist who uses personal biases to make rulings, using controversial statements she’s made over the years to make their point. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich backtracked on calling her a racist, but still believes she’d bring bias to her decisions. Radio host Rush Limbaugh, however, makes no apologies.
Judicial Committee chairman, Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont, told reporters after his meeting with her the criticisms of Sotomayor have been the most “vicious” he’s ever heard.
“The one thing that gives me any consolation is that the Republican senators have not done that and have resisted it,” said Leahy.
G. Calvin MacKenzie, who teaches government at Colby College, says that the outer fringe of the GOP right wing is largely responsible for the attacks, putting Republican senators in a very awkward position.
“They don’t want to be critical of the people who resonate with the Republican base so much, but they’re also put into a bind by this criticism, particularly those who represent states with a big Hispanic vote” MacKenzie says.
When Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the judiciary committee’s ranking Republican, spoke to reporters after meeting with Sotomayor, he praised her resume and “remarkable” life story. He also said they discussed her views on the law and he committed to ensuring that she gets a fair hearing and an opportunity to answer all allegations.