- The Washington Times - Friday, June 5, 2009

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor said in a 1998 speech that she owed her first federal judicial nomination almost entirely to New York Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, undercutting the spirit of President Obama’s claim that it was Republican President George H.W. Bush who was responsible for her first appointment to the federal bench.

Mr. Obama and fellow Democrats have repeatedly pointed to her initial nomination to a federal district court in 1991 by then-President Bush, and her later elevation to an appeals court by then-President Clinton seven years later, as evidence she is a nonpartisan selection for the high court.

But in her own account of her nomination, delivered in a speech to a Hispanic legal association, Judge Sotomayor recalled that she was only nominated, and only received a Senate floor vote, because of political horse-trading by Mr. Moynihan, the senior senator from New York, where Judge Sotomayor lived. President Bush, Judge Sotomayor added, was far from an enthusiastic advocate for her nomination.

“Over the next twenty months, Senator Moynihan cajoled and pushed the Republican White House to nominate me. He traded other nominees in other states some circuit and other district court with the [White House] to get me ultimately nominated by President Bush,” Judge Sotomayor said, according to the text of the speech to the Cervantes Society.

The address was included in a voluminous record of the judge’s speeches, opinions and personal data delivered to the Senate Thursday ahead of her confirmation hearings this summer.

Judge Sotomayor’s blunt account of the backroom politicking involved in her nomination appears to undercut a refrain used by her supporters — including President Obama — that she is the product of bipartisan presidential approvals.

“It is her experience in life and her achievements in the legal profession that have earned Judge Sotomayor respect across party lines and ideological divides,” Mr. Obama said in a weekly radio address last month. “She was originally named to the U.S. District Court by the first President Bush, a Republican. She was appointed to the federal Court of Appeals by President Clinton, a Democrat.”

Republicans and conservative activists have made the same argument about Mr. Moynihan’s role, but Judge Sotomayor’s words will likely give them much more ammunition.

Mr. Moynihan used an arrangement that New York’s two senators had with the Bush White House in which the senator whose party controlled the White House nominated three judges for every one judge the other senator recommended, she wrote in the 1998 speech. New York’s other senator at the time was Republican Alfonse D’Amato.

Mr. Moynihan used his one nomination for Judge Sotomayor and spent the next two years battling the Bush administration to secure her formal nomination.

A White House spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.

In the Cervantes Society speech, Judge Sotomayor detailed a 1991 phone call she received from an attorney in the George H.W. Bush White House informing her that the president was unlikely to nominate her to the bench “because my senator was not cooperating.”

“As they guessed, I called Sen. Moynihan’s office and I learned that the White House wanted his cooperation in getting the Judicial Committee, chaired then by Democratic Sen. Joe Biden, to push out of the committee two Republican circuit court nominees,” Judge Sotomayor wrote.

“You would not be drawing a wrong conclusion in presuming that two circuit court judges owe their positions to my nomination and [to] Sen. Moynihan’s dedication to making it happen,” she said.

Her grueling 28-month confirmation battle did not end there. A “disgruntled senator” blocked the nomination of four women nominees, including Judge Sotomayor, until the Senate Judiciary Committee removed a hold on another nominee, according to her speech.

Athough Judge Sotomayor did not identify the “disgruntled” lawmaker in the speech, news reports from the time say Alabama Sen. Richard C. Shelby, then a Democrat, had blocked the nominations because of a separate hold placed on an Alabama prosecutor who supported the death penalty. Mr. Shelby later switched parties and is now a Republican.

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