By Michael A. Fletcher and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Sonia Sotomayor huddled with administration lawyers at the White House yesterday, preparing for her first visits with key senators since becoming President Obama's choice for the Supreme Court as Republicans reiterated that they are in no hurry to confirm her to the post.
Sotomayor, who is in line to become the first Latina and third woman to serve on the high court, continued to put the finishing touches on a detailed Senate questionnaire in advance of her courtesy calls to Senate leaders today. The nominee, who has been a federal appeals court judge since 1998, is also slated to meet with top members of the Judiciary Committee, which will hold hearings on her nomination this summer.
The 10-page form is intended to reveal the details of Sotomayor's personal finances, legal work, professional associations, speeches, and legal and other writings, and it provides a baseline for questions that senators will pose during public hearings. White House officials said the document, which requires copious backup material, should be completed "in the next couple of days."
As Sotomayor prepared for her Senate rounds, Republican leaders signaled that they will resist President Obama's push to confirm her by Aug. 7, the start of the Senate's summer recess. Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the panel's ranking Republican, have begun informal talks about the committee's summer schedule, with the aim of striking an agreement to minimize any procedural delays before and after the nomination reaches the chamber floor. But senior Senate aides in both parties are skeptical that a deal to expedite Sotomayor's confirmation can be reached.
With Democrats holding 59 Senate seats, one short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster, and moderates in both parties already sending favorable signals about Sotomayor, Republican opponents are unlikely to find enough votes to block her confirmation. But they may be able to stall the process, pushing final floor action into September.
That would still allow Sotomayor to take her seat as of Oct. 1, when the court will reconvene. "I want to make sure she's ready to go when the new term starts," said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who is scheduled to meet with the nominee this morning. He pledged to provide background materials to Republicans "as quickly as possible."
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose meeting is set for this afternoon, told Reid on the Senate floor yesterday that he and his GOP colleagues will follow their own schedule. "Republicans take very seriously our obligation to review anyone who is nominated to a lifetime position on our nation's highest court," McConnell said. "The Senate will, therefore, thoroughly review Judge Sotomayor's judicial record to ensure a full and informed debate over her qualifications."
McConnell and other Senate Republicans face a tricky balancing act: As they raise objections about the nominee, they have sought to use the most restrained language they can muster, to distance themselves from outside conservatives.
Sotomayor has come under attack for her stated belief that "personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see." Radio host Rush Limbaugh and former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) have called the judge a "racist" for saying in 2001 that she "would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."
Sotomayor also has drawn fire for a comment she made comparing trial courts with appeals courts by saying that appeals court are where policy is made. McConnell called that a "tough statement to square with Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which clearly contemplates a far more limited role for federal judges."
McConnell said he had voted against Sotomayor's nomination to the federal appeals court "out of a concern that she would bring preexisting personal and political beliefs into the courtroom," and he said that "many of those same concerns I had about the judge 11 years ago persist."
"Republicans will insist that the confirmation process be conducted in a fair and professional manner," he continued, adding: "But respectful doesn't mean rushed."
Sotomayor is scheduled to visit Reid, McConnell, Leahy and Sessions, as well as Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). Between those meetings, she is slated to have lunch with her home-state senators, New York Democrats Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.