Just hours before the start of the confirmation hearing of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee continued to question her ability to be an impartial judge.
“I think philosophically her statements indicate an approach to judging that is outside the mainstream,” Sen. Jeff Sessions said in a nationally broadcast interview, the Associated Press reported.
But on another morning show, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said “She’s not far left. She’s not far right. She’s mainstream,” the AP reported, indicating that debate will likely be a theme in Monday’s hearing.
The Senate Judiciary Committee starts at 10 a.m. Monday the confirmation hearing of Judge Sotomayor to replace outgoing Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter. Judge Sotomayor, a member of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has met with 89 senators.
The prospects of her confirmation appeared good Sunday after Mr. Schumer said he expects her to receive more votes than the hefty majority for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Republicans indicated they don’t expect a filibuster.
“She has wowed people,” Mr. Schumer said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “She is going to be approved by a large margin.”
Mr. Schumer predicted that Judge Sotomayor, who would become the first Hispanic member of the nation’s high court, likely would garner more support than Chief Justice Roberts, who received 78 votes in 2005.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said he doubts Judge Sotomayor will have a fate similar to another Hispanic nominee to the federal bench, Miguel Estrada, whose confirmation was filibustered by Democrats seven times.
“We’re not going to filibuster Judge Sotomayor like the Democrats did Miguel Estrada, who would have been on the Supreme Court, I would have predicted, if he had not been filibustered and denied an up-or-down vote,” Mr. Cornyn said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think she’ll have an up-or-down vote.”
A filibuster would be a tough sell anyway because it would require at least 41 votes, which is increasingly difficult now that Senate Democrats have a caucus of 60 with the seating of Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Obama called Judge Sotomayor on Sunday morning to wish her good luck.
“The president expressed his confidence that Judge Sotomayor would be confirmed to serve as a justice on the Supreme Court for many years to come,” the White House said.
Judge Sotomayor is expected to face questions from Republicans on several comments that suggest her racial background influences her interpretation of the law. One remark she made in a 2001 speech has been a lightning rod for controversy.
“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences,” Judge Sotomayor said then, “would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male, who hasn’t lived that life.”
“She has advocated a view that suggests that your personal experiences, even prejudices - she uses that word - it’s expected that they would influence a decision you make, which is a blow, I think, at the very ideal of American justice,” Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “I am really flabbergasted by the depth and consistency of her philosophical critique of the ideal of impartial justice.”
Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, shrugged off Mr. Sessions’ concerns as “grasping at straws.”
“I’ve asked her about her speeches,” he said alongside Mr. Sessions on “Face the Nation.” “And she said ultimately and completely, the law controls. And as a judge, she’s shown over and over again that ultimately and completely, the law controls. Anything else is nitpicking.”
Mr. Leahy stressed that Judge Sotomayor “has been a judge longer than anybody who’s gone on the Supreme Court in almost 100 years.”
Republicans also raised concerns about Judge Sotomayor’s decision in the case of a group of white firefighters who said they were improperly denied a promotion because of race. The Supreme Court recently overturned her order, siding with the New Haven, Conn., firefighters.
More than 30 witnesses, including Judge Sotomayor, are expected to testify. Republicans have given one of their 14 slots to one of the white firefighters in the case.