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.
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“I think she deserves to be challenged. I think she needs to prove to me and others, not just me, but anybody out there who’s looking for an independent judge that, if they found themselves in litigation with a Latina woman...that she would give you a fair shake,” he said, after his June 3 “get-to-know-you” session with Sotomayor.Skip to next paragraph
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What personal contact can do is to put a face on nominees before the bright lights of a public hearing.
“We have so much in common. We both went to the same kind of schools with nuns, we both had very strong mothers, we’re both Nancy Drew fans, and we were both on debating teams,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) of Maryland.
“She’s a bicycle rider. I’m a bicycle rider. We talked a little bit about our favorite routes,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York. “She’s a very human person of great legal mind. And I think that’s the right person to be on the Supreme Court.”
Sometimes, the face-to-face encounters can also put legal controversies in a broader, less partisan context.
“There’s a fairly long tradition of those courtesy calls,” says Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia, who attended Sotomayor’s speech in which she made the "wise Latina woman" comment. “There is a value both in terms of educating the senators and making them more comfortable in a personal and professional way with the nominee.”
The speech, “Raising the Bar: Latino and Latina Presence in the Judiciary and the Struggle for Representation” was not controversial at the time and in context -- a law school conference in Berkeley, Calif., on the need to increase Latino representation on the federal bench.
“Other people on various panels said more radical things,” says Professor Tobias. “I don’t think anybody at the time thought that her speech was radical in any serious way.”
In between Senate visits on Thursday, Sotomayor returned a 171-page questionnaire for judicial nominees to the Senate Judiciary Committee offices -- a near record turnaround for a Supreme Court nominee, according to committee staff. But the date for her confirmation hearing is still in dispute.
Democrats want to set hearings before the August recess. Republicans say they need more time to vet her 17-year record of judicial decisions, speeches and comments.
Specter is the former ranking Republican on the Judiciary committee. His party switch in April gives Democrats a 12-7 edge on the committee that votes Sotomayor’s nomination to the Senate floor. But, he says, “I’m going to reserve judgment until we follow the constitutional process."