SCOTT SIMON, host:
Here now to talk with us about Act I and to look forward to Act II of the Sotomayor theatrical is NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Nina, thanks for being with us.
NINA TOTENBERG: My pleasure.
SIMON: What's your estimation of how the rollout of the Sotomayor nomination went for the White House?
TOTENBERG: Well, as political theater goes, it was a pretty spectacular event, complete with a crying mother in the front row, the big extended family there, the up from - by-her-bootstraps story of her life. And to continue the theatrical motif, these days the first impression is a little bit like the first weekend of a Hollywood movie: if it succeeds, you're over the hump.
Now, you're not there in a confirmation proceeding, because there are many other things that can happen. But since it is the first impression and the big impression that will count, at least for now the White House did extremely well and so did Judge Sotomayor.
SIMON: Even before the judge was named, there were some groups who had branded her as a radical or a racist. Did any of that stick this week?
TOTENBERG: Well, there were people who said that because in a speech about eight years ago she said that she would hope that a Latina judge would, relying on her experiences, reach a wiser conclusion than a white male judge relying on his. I just don't think that that's enough to really queer this nomination.
SIMON: Maybe not coincidentally, when the nomination was announced, Congress was out of town, but senators are going to be back next week, and what happens then?
TOTENBERG: Well, she'll start making the rounds. Probably her Sherpa for this event - because now we have Sherpas for these events - is going to be New York senior Senator Chuck Schumer. But not the most beloved person to Republicans, and I wouldn't be surprised to see another Sherpa come in to unroil the waters.
But she is a very sparkling personality. According to her colleagues on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, people will like her.
SIMON: The president would like a new justice by the fall. Can that happen?
TOTENBERG: The president would like a new justice by the beginning of September, because he knows that's when the court actually meets behind closed doors to decide what cases they're going to hear. Republican senators very much would like this all to not happen until September.
The truth is: often we've had these hearings and confirmations in September, but I look back and for anybody since 1980 who's been nominated before June 14th, there have been confirmation hearings in July - in Scalia's case in early August because he was paired with then-Chief Justice Rehnquist - and almost all of them were confirmed before the Congress left for its recess in July.
SIMON: The Democrats have the votes to confirm her pretty easily. Barring any new revelation, something we don't know now, what tone do you think Republican senators might take in opposition?
TOTENBERG: You know, they're really in an excruciating position. The fastest growing group of voters are Hispanics. And they simply cannot alienate this voting bloc. Even Bill O'Reilly said if they do that, they're doomed. So they can't look like they're attacking her. On the other hand, their conservative base wants them to oppose her.
So my guess is they'll quietly vote against her but not do anything to block her nomination.
SIMON: And remind me: how many Democrats voted against Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Alito?
TOTENBERG: Twenty-two Democrats voted against Roberts. That's exactly half of the then-sitting Democrats, and 40 voted against Alito - all but four of the Democrats. And among the opposition to both was then-Senator Barack Obama.
SIMON: NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, thanks so much.
TOTENBERG: Thank you.