Sotomayor Begins Calling Key Senators
Updated 3:35 p.m.
By Shailagh Murray and Michael A. Fletcher
Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor launched her Senate outreach campaign today through phone calls to key Democrats and Republicans and will begin face-to-face meetings when lawmakers return to the Capitol next week.
Some previous nominees have paid visits to as many three quarters of senators, Democratic aides said, but Sotomayor's itinerary hasn't been worked out yet, according to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. He told reporters this afternoon that Sotomayor had spoken to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and the panel's ranking minority member, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).
"I think the most effective advocate for making the case for the confirmation of Judge Sotomayor is, in fact, Judge Sotomayor," Gibbs said.
While Sotomayor works through her list of introductions, Leahy and Sessions must negotiate a hearing schedule that aims to give Republicans the ample time they are seeking to review the nominee's extensive legal record, while meeting President Obama's Aug. 7 deadline for confirmation. At the moment, Democratic officials who are participating in the process view the week of July 13 as the earliest date that hearings could start, with the nomination heading to the Senate floor about two weeks later. Cynthia Hogan, a veteran judiciary staffer and now chief counsel for Vice President Biden and White House liaison on the nomination, will meet with Democratic committee aides tomorrow to begin working out details, Senate officials said.
Sessions was noncommittal about the timing of proceedings in a Fox News interview this morning. "She should be ready by the October First, if she's confirmed," he said, a reference to the start of the Court's fall term.
Sotomayor's advocates note that she was confirmed by the Senate 10 years ago as a federal appeals judge, although her nomination was put on hold for a year, in part because Republicans wanted to prevent President Clinton from nominating her to the Supreme Court. GOP senators also raised questions about Sotomayor's record on federal sentencing guidelines.
On Oct. 2, 1998, 67 senators supported Sotomayor's nomination, but 29 senators -- all Republians -- voted against her. Among those opponents was Sessions, although the lawmaker acknowledged today that he couldn't remember any particular reason. "A number of concerns were raised," Sessions told Fox.
When Sotomayor returns to the committee, "It ought to be completely afresh, a de novo hearing, let her answer all her complaints and questions and talk about her record since that time," Sessions added.
Eleven of the 29 who voted no on Sotomayor remain in the Senate, including Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). "I have no memories of that," Grassley said of the vote, in an interview with Iowa reporters.
Along with Grassley and Sessions, a third GOP member of the judiciary committee voted against Sotomayor in 1998: Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). Now a top member of the Republican leadership, Kyl told Fox News this afternoon that he would be open minded about Sotomayor's new appointment. "We're going to examine her decisions, her opinions, the writings, what she has said in speeches, listen to the witnesses who testify before our committee," said Kyl. "We will view the FBI report, of course, and the (American Bar Association) recommendations. And with all of that information, make the appropriate decision."
But Grassley noted that confirmation hearings had stretched longer in recent decades and had become much tougher, most notably in the failed nomination of Robert Bork in 1987. "And consequently, all of the nominees, for the most part, have had very long and very thorough investigations compared to the first 200-year history of our country," said Grassley. "It's a precedent that is pretty deeply ingrained now and will apply to Sotomayor as it applies to other people and has applied to other people."
Sessions did note that the 11-8 partisan split on the committee made it highly unlikely that Sotomayor's nomination would fail to reach the Senate floor. "I don't want to, you know, predict what'll happen, but certainly, she'll have a lot of friends on that committee," Sessions told Fox.
Posted at 3:19 PM ET on May 27, 2009
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