- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 12, 2009

Despite the bright lights of a media circus and proclamations from lawmakers that will crank up Monday morning in the Hart Senate Office Building, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s third journey to the bench could prove to be her easiest.

When members of the Senate Judiciary Committee take up her nomination Monday, Judge Sotomayor already will have survived anonymous obstacles and hidden political horse-trading necessary for her to ascend in the ranks of the federal judiciary.

Members of the 19-member panel will open Monday with what has become a modern rite of passage to the nation’s highest court: the confirmation hearing.

Questions in the past have focused on membership in exclusive clubs, work for civil rights groups and the definition of the term “intellectual feast” - a phrase that may have helped “Bork” President Reagan nominee Robert Bork.

Related article: Schumer: Sotomayor likely to get more votes than Roberts

Senators who have read through Judge Sotomayor’s cases and speeches are prepared to pepper the Bronx-born jurist with questions about whether gender and ethnicity influence a judge’s decisions and how she would rule on some of the nation’s most controversial issues, from abortion to gun rights.

Organizers for the Senate Judiciary Committee have cleared the week for hearings, starting with opening statements Monday from the senators and Judge Sotomayor.

Questions from the senators - each gets a half hour - are set for Tuesday, and a second round of queries is expected on Wednesday.

Democratic leadership on the committee will rely on a list of star witnesses - from New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to former New York Yankees hurler David Cone - to make their pitch for Judge Sotomayor.

But Republicans have focused on Judge Sotomayor’s comments about the influence of gender and ethnicity on decision-making, as well as on her decision to join two other judges in dismissing a discrimination suit by white New Haven, Conn., firefighters who claimed they were denied promotions because of their race. The Supreme Court overturned that ruling last month.

Republican lawmakers called the lead plaintiff in the case, Frank Ricci, to testify Monday.

Between the Ricci case and some of Judge Sotomayor’s more controversial remarks, Republican lawmakers are looking to at least slow her confirmation, if not block it.

“I didn’t create these problems for her; these are her words,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told The Washington Times on Friday.

Democratic senators, meanwhile, have said her nomination should be approved before Congress recesses in August, saying the timing for her hearings matches the pace Republicans set in 2005 for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

“I used the term ‘foul play’ - delay, delay, delay. Because that’s the key now. We need to act,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat and one of the 12 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Delay is likely a relative term for a federal judge who waited more than two years after being nominated for her first seat on the bench and more than one year to ascend to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

It took 28 months from the day Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan asked Judge Sotomayor if she would join the U.S. District Court in Manhattan for the Senate to approve her.

President George H.W. Bush, like other presidents, honored a deal he had with Mr. Moynihan that allowed the senator, whose party controlled Congress, to submit three names for district judge, and the New York senator from the minority party was allowed to pick one name.

But a tug of war between Mr. Bush and Mr. Moynihan slowed her nomination greatly.

“We have been holding onto these nominations in which Sen. Moynihan has an interest because he has had a hold on two circuit court nominations (including Hal deMoss), which he has been trying to use to extract a district court judge from us,” wrote C. Boyden Gray, counsel to Mr. Bush, in a Nov. 27, 1991, letter.

The letter from Mr. Gray to Mr. Bush was released Thursday along with thousands of other pages from the presidential libraries of Mr. Bush and former President Bill Clinton, detailing the nomination and confirmation of Judge Sotomayor to the federal district court and then the federal appeals court.

Mr. Clinton nominated Judge Sotomayor for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in June 1997, and she was not approved by the Senate until October 1998.

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