The confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor will not begin until next week, but the preconfirmation battle has already started.
Republicans are focusing on elements of the judge's record seen as out of the mainstream on issues ranging from guns and abortion to racial and ethnic discrimination. They got a boost from the powerful National Rifle Association Tuesday, which outlined “very serious concerns” about the nominee in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In response, Senate Democrats rolled out a new line of defense Tuesday: the nominee’s “tough on crime” record.
“From her years as a prosecutor in New York City’s district attorney’s office to her years as a trial judge on the federal bench…, Judge Sotomayor has an extraordinary record of following, defending, and upholding the rule of law,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, at a briefing Tuesday with law-enforcement groups.
In more than 10 years on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Sotomayor affirmed criminal convictions 92 percent of the time, according to a study released today by the Judiciary panel’s majority staff. In violent crime cases, including terrorism cases, she upheld convictions 98 percent of the time.
Still, conservative groups opposing the nomination say NRA opposition could be a “game changer politically.”
“For the first time in the history of judicial confirmation fights, the Second Amendment community is playing a big role,” said Curt Levey, executive director of the Committee for Justice, in a statement. “Because it's the one community that can send red-state [conservative] Democrats running for cover, this [NRA] letter and the grass-roots opposition to Sotomayor that it represents put her confirmation in doubt.”
In his letter to the Judiciary Committee, the NRA's Mr. Cox wrote: “The cases in which Judge Sotomayor has participated have been dismissive of the Second Amendment and have troubling implications for future cases that are certain to come before the Court.”
But other Sotomayor critics worry that the Senate’s move to start hearings next week and wrap up votes before the August recess all but ensures that Sotomayor will win confirmation.
“The effort now mounted by the gun lobby and its supporters is useless unless the vote occurs in September – that’s the amount of time needed to mobilize the gun owners and American people,” says Manual Miranda, who heads the Third Branch Conference, a coalition founded to help conservative religious groups influence judicial confirmation fights.
Senate Republicans had pushed for a delay to the hearings, citing a need for more time to vet Sotomayor’s extensive judicial record. But this week, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary panel said the hearings would begin as planned on July 13.
“The chairman has a right to set the hearing. We argued about that, and he made his final decision, and we’ll do our best to make sure that people are ready and they have a fair and good hearing,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama.
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