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Culture Wars Invade Cordial Sotomayor Hearing

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Norma McCorvey, 61, was arrested after she and another anti-abortion protester started shouting during Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation while Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was making his opening remarks. McCorvey is better known as "Jane Roe" of the 1973 Roe v. Wade case. Video by AP

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Her family and friends were arrayed behind her, nearly 35 photographers sitting cross-legged in a circle before her. Behind the photographers sat the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a panel composed mostly of white men in dark suits.

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There were two appreciative chuckles. About 90 minutes in, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) put bluntly what would happen after these scheduled four days of hearings: "Unless you have a complete meltdown, you are going to get confirmed." As laughter spread through the room, he quickly added, "And I don't think you're going to have a meltdown." Later, as Chairman Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont prepared to swear in Sotomayor to give her statement, he fumbled and labeled this protocol "the oath of office." His fellow legislators seemed to wake up and ribbed him for that.

The proceedings in the morning were so unremarkable that Nina Totenberg, the veteran Supreme Court correspondent for National Public Radio, could be seen working a crossword puzzle. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a man not known for being press-shy, told aides as he bustled out of the room during a short break that "I'm not going to stop" in the ersatz spin room set up outside.

Even Sotomayor was economical when recounting her remarkable biography, casting it as "uniquely American."

"On her own, my mother raised my brother and me," she said, then stopped for a long moment to maintain her control. Behind her in the front row, her mother, Celina, pulled out a tissue and dabbed at her eyes.

Overall, the first day of Sotomayor's hearings largely showed the nation's capital at its most tidy and earnest.

By 7:30 a.m., about 100 people stood or sat in the line for public tickets outside the Hart Building, the conventional crowd of the curious and the wonkish, a copy of the Economist here, someone reading "The Audacity of Hope" there.

Matt Douglas, a third-year law student at the University of Kentucky, got permission to take the day off from his job at the Department of Justice's Office of Tribal Justice.

He carried a biography of Abraham Lincoln and had collected three tickets to gain admittance to three 20-minute periods of yesterday's hearing.

"If I had been in the office, I would have been watching the whole thing anyway," he said, just as he did for the hearings of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. 3 1/2 years ago. "And I'll be back tomorrow, because I want to see the give-and-take."

But as he waited to go in for his second session, his relish for the legal bickering faded for a moment.

"I think it must be hard to be her mother," he said, "watching her daughter get roughed up a little."

Staff writers Jacqueline L. Salmon and Paul Kane contributed to this report.


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