Republican senators raised new questions Tuesday morning about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s work with a Puerto Rican legal advocacy group, citing its stance on abortion.
The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) argued against parental notification for minors seeking abortions, writing in a 1980 legal brief that “just as Dred Scott v. Sanford refused citizenship to Black people, these opinions strip the poor of meaningful citizenship under the fundamental law.”
President Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee already faced questions for her role on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a closely watched, reverse-discrimination case involving the city of New Haven, Conn.
A half-dozen Democratic and Republican leaders sparred throughout the day Tuesday, turning the Senate floor into something of a preconfirmation hearing on Judge Sotomayor.
Republican senators - including ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Texas Republican John Cornyn - questioned how close Judge Sotomayor had worked in crafting PRLDEF’s support for legalized abortion and opposition to the death penalty.
Democrats countered with speeches and a news conference intended to bolster Judge Sotomayor’s credential as an impartial jurist.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, suggested the attacks were more the work of outside groups than legitimate gripes.
“We get paid well, we have great staffs,” Mr. Leahy said. “Why don’t we forget either the right-wing or the left-wing groups. Forget those who want to raise money.”
The conservative Judicial Watch put together a lengthy analysis last week of PRLDEF’s work in the 1980s and Judge Sotomayor’s work with the group.
Judge Sotomayor’s liberal advocates, meanwhile, began circulating a National Public Radio interview critical of Mr. Sessions for being “racially hostile” and a “product of the Deep South.”
Mr. Sessions’ attempt to win a seat on the federal bench in 1986 was derailed by allegations of racism.
With three weeks to go before confirmation hearings start, critics have yet to find a claim likely to derail her nomination and their attempts have met with muted success
Judge Sotomayor resigned her membership in an elite all-women club Friday amid pressure from Republican senators. And charges that she was a racist for comments she made about a “wise Latina woman” making better decisions than a “white male” resulted in backpedalling by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Mr. Obama.
The case of the New Haven firefighters, however, may prove to be critics’ best chance for blocking her confirmation.
The Supreme Court is considering Ricci v. DeStefano, a case in which Judge Sotomayor concurred with a ruling that a dyslexic white firefighter was not the target of discrimination after his test results for a job promotion were thrown out by the city.
The city said it rejected the test scores because they were discriminatory, as all but one of the candidates who qualified were white.
Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Tuesday that Judge Sotomayor’s ruling in the Ricci case is similar to her work with PRLDEF.
PRLDEF pressed the New York City Police Department to rewrite its civil service exams in the late 1980s, saying the test discriminated against minorities. The NYPD then re-wrote its exam with the help of a PRLDEF-appointed attorney.
It’s unclear where Judge Sotomayor stood on the testing issue and the group’s abortion stance. In other instances her involvment has been more direct, signing onto 1981 PRLDEF letter opposing the death penalty and writing a memo in support of bilingual education.
Group memberships have proved routine fodder for opponents of Supreme Court nominees.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. was hammered on his reported membership in the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a group that opposed affirmative action policies at the Ivy League school.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s work for the ACLU and other women’s rights groups became a point of contention during her 1993 confirmation hearings among senators who questioned her ability to be impartial.
Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing is scheduled to start in the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 13.