- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 31, 2009

To those who followed Judge Sonia Sotomayor through her 1991 and 1997 appearances before the SenateJudiciary Committee, she did not appear very controversial, nor even particularly a judicial activist.

She sailed through in her first go-round, when President George H.W. Bush nominated her in 1991 to a federal district court in New York, winning committee approval and full Senate confirmation unanimously.

But six years later, Judge Sotomayor faced a few pointed questions about her judicial demeanor, and more than a year’s delay as she awaited confirmation to the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. She was finally confirmed in 1998 by the Senate, 67-29 — and the 29 “no” votes came despite not a single senator speaking out publicly against her in either the committee or on the floor.

It’s safe to say she will hear from her opponents this time around.

Already, critics have forced Judge Sotomayor to signal that she regrets saying in 2001 she hoped that a Hispanic woman, with her experiences, would make better decisions than a white man without those experiences.

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That admission came from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Friday, who said her choice of words was “poor.” He said he had spoken with administration officials handling Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation who relayed her regret over her words.

Still, in his weekly radio address Saturday, Mr. Obama warned opponents against “pulling a few comments out of context to paint a distorted picture of Judge Sotomayor’s record.”

“I am confident that these efforts will fail,” Mr. Obama said.

For Judge Sotomayor to win confirmation, she must survive a series of procedural hurdles, each of which she’s been through before: returning the official questionnaire about judicial rulings, personal finances and legal experience to the SenateJudiciary Committee; facing a grilling before the committee; being voted on by the committee; and being confirmed on a vote by the full Senate.

The White House says Judge Sotomayor will return her questionnaire to the Judiciary Committee sometime this week — but judging by her responses in her 1992 and 1998 questionnaires, there won’t be much to argue over.

In those first two go-rounds, Judge Sotomayor’s answers suggested someone who took judicial limits seriously.

“Our Constitution vests the right to make and administer laws in the legislative and executive branches of our government. Judges impermissibly encroach upon that right by rendering decisions that loosen jurisdictional requirements outside of the scope of established precedents and by fashioning remedies aimed at including parties not before the court to resolve broad societal problems,” Judge Sotomayor wrote in 1992.

Six years later, Judge Sotomayor said her time on the district court had only deepened her convictions on the issue, though it had shown her just how tough it was to maintain that balance: “Finding and maintaining a proper balance in protecting the constitutional and statutory rights of individuals versus protecting the interest of government, financial and otherwise, is very difficult. Judges must be extraordinarily sensitive to the impact of their decisions, and function within, and be respectful of, the constraints of the Constitution.”

No hearing date has been set, but Judge Sotomayor has been through those, too. Still, Jamie Brown, a former Bush administration official who helped prepare both Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. for their confirmations, said getting ready for Supreme Court hearings is more intense than preparing for other nomination hearings.

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