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Partisans Likely to Use Sotomayor Hearings as a Platform and a Barometer

The empty witness table for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, as the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, July 13.
The empty witness table for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, as the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, July 13. (Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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"She has a track record. She has shown to be a mainstream judge. You don't have to guess what kind of a judge she's going to be," Leahy said. "I've asked her about her speeches. And she said ultimately and completely, the law controls."

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) promised that Sotomayor will receive a "fair hearing" and that his GOP colleagues will treat her with dignity. But he made clear the Republicans will seize on her comments that a "wise Latina" would come to a better conclusion than a white man.

"You've got to call balls and strikes as a judge," he said on "Fox News Sunday." "The ethnicity focus, the focus on sex and on race, and saying that there may be different outcomes depending on who the judge is, is antithetical to the whole idea of the rule of law -- objective and neutral justice."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) responded that "judges are not automatons" and predicted that Sotomayor will easily explain the broader meaning of her comments.

"One's experience, one's venue, one's way of looking at an issue does come into it somewhere along the line," Feinstein said.

One surprise may come late in the day, when, according to sources, several Republican senators could announce their support for Sotomayor's nomination, effectively sealing her appointment to the court and making the only question how many votes she will receive.

Among those who some court watchers say could make an early announcement are Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, the only Latino Republican in the chamber, and Sens. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.

Sotomayor is scheduled to arrive before the panel at 10 a.m. today, surrounded by her family and supporters. She will be flanked by Cynthia Hogan, the counsel to Vice President Biden who has overseen the nomination for the White House, and Susan Davies, a West Wing lawyer.

Her handlers say there will be "watch parties" in more than 30 states, with supporters gathering to hear from the woman they hope will replace retiring Justice David H. Souter.

But it will be hours before Sotomayor gets to say a word to the senators and the public. The hearing will begin with 20-minute opening statements from each of the 19 senators. Sotomayor will make her remarks late in the day, congressional sources said.

"She's been reviewing her cases. She's been reviewing questions that senators have asked in the private meetings," one senior White House official close to the process said. "We'll see a hands-on appellate judge who will be solid."

Beginning tomorrow, senators will take turns asking questions for 30 minutes each and then will start a second, shorter round of questioning, probably on Wednesday. On Thursday, each side will call witnesses to testify for or against her confirmation.

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