Sotomayor Appears Close To Confirmation
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor appears to be moving quickly toward confirmation. Republicans have now promised a full Senate vote on her nomination by early August. Yesterday the Judiciary Committee's top Republican, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, abandoned calls for a delay and the committee finished questioning Sotomayor and heard from 30 outside witnesses. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg looks at the week's events.
NINA TOTENBERG: From the beginning, Republicans focused their attention on Sotomayor's off-the-bench speeches, especially her now-celebrated statement that she would hope a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would reach a better conclusion in some cases than a white male judge. And from the beginning Sotomayor began distancing herself from that statement.
Judge SONIA SOTOMAYOR (Supreme Court Nominee): No words I have ever spoken or written have received so much intention.
(Soundbite of laughter)
TOTENBERG: After hours of pummeling on Tuesday she retreated to this formulation.
Judge SOTOMAYOR: I was using a rhetorical flourish that fell flat. It was bad. It's clearly not what I intended in the context of my broader speech, which was attempting to inspire young Hispanic Latino students and lawyers to believe that their life experiences added value to the process.
TOTENBERG: By yesterday, Republicans were on their third round of questions, still spending much of their time on the statement. Here's South Carolina's Lindsey Graham.
Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): Last question on the wise Latino woman comment. To those who may be bothered by that, what do you say?
Judge SOTOMAYOR: I regret that I have offended some people. I believe that my life demonstrates that that was not my intent to leave the impression that some have taken from my words.
TOTENBERG: Ranking Republican Jeff Sessions began the week asking Sotomayor this question.
Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): What do you really believe?
TOTENBERG: Yesterday, Republicans were still asking that question. Utah's Republican Orrin Hatch asked if when Sotomayor served on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund in the 1980s she knew about the briefs filed in a bunch of abortion cases. She said no, that board members raised money and approved the overall mission of the organization, but they did not supervise litigation. Hatch followed up.
Senator ORRIN HATCH (Republican, Utah): At the time did you voice any concern, objection, disagreement or doubt about the fund filing this brief or making this argument?
Judge SOTOMAYOR: I was not like Justice Ginsberg or Justice Marshall. I was not a lawyer on the fund. I was a board member. So I never reviewed the briefs.
TOTENBERG: In a hallway chat afterwards, Hatch said he simply finds that difficult to believe, and although he's never voted against a Supreme Court nominee, he's deeply troubled by this one.
For Hatch, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund is as important as the wise Latina comment. Other senators, however, seemed to back off a bit. Texas Republican John Cornyn.
Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): You know, I actually agree that your judicial record strikes me as pretty much in the mainstream. What is creating this cognitive dissonance for many of us is that you appear to be a different person almost in your speeches and in some of the comments that you've made.
TOTENBERG: Oklahoma's Tom Coburn echoed that sentiment.
Senator TOM COBURN (Republican, Oklahoma): I really see a dissonance about what you said outside of your jurisprudence. You are an admirable judge, an admirable woman. I have yet to decide where I'm going on this.
TOTENBERG: At day's end, Chairman Patrick Leahy scheduled a committee vote for next Tuesday. It won't happen that day. Republicans said that's rushing things. They can invoke an automatic postponement of one week. But Senator Hatch said he hopes the committee can compromise with a vote late next week. This isn't worth a catfight he said. Once the committee votes, the nomination goes to the Senate floor for a final vote.
Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.