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Sotomayor navigates Senate corridors on her way to confirmation hearing

Democrats push for July; GOP senators say they need more time to examine her record.

By Staff writer / June 5, 2009

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor meets with Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., right, in his hideaway office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday.

Susan Walsh/AP



In Week 1 of “courtesy calls” on Capitol Hill, Judge Sonia Sotomayor gave a genial, thoughtful face to a high-stakes nomination to the US Supreme Court.

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Topics ranged from Nancy Drew mysteries to the doctrine of stare decisis (respect for legal precedent). But by week’s end, she had won assurances on both sides of the aisle that her confirmation hearings (yet to be scheduled) will be fair and civil.

She also won a rare retraction from GOP activist and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who backed off an earlier comment that Sotomayor was a racist.

It’ll be the third Senate confirmation hearing for the US Court of Appeals judge for the Second Circuit in New York. But nothing fully prepares one for the sprint and high intensity of a Supreme Court nomination.

A flash of aqua in a sea of somber-suited minders, Sotomayor fast-walked nonstop appointments between Senate offices this week. While she refrained from speaking directly to the press, senators who met with her offered a glimpse at how she is addressing concerns about her nomination.

So far, the biggest flashpoint is her comment in a 2001 speech that she “would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion that a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

In discussing this issue with senators, her responses ranged from assurances that “I’m bound by the law,” to light-hearted quips that she made a poor choice of words and won’t make that mistake again, said senators reporting on the conversations.

In the first wave of visits on Tuesday, Sotomayor told Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont that “one’s life experiences shapes who you are, but ultimately and a judge you follow the law.”

After meeting with Sotomayor on Wednesday, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) of Rhode Island said that she “made clear that she wasn’t intending that remark at the time or ever to be a categorical statement that her life experience would make her wiser than a white male across the board.”

On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, credited her with saying “I’m bound by the law,” but said he was still troubled by the “wise Latina” remark.