- The Washington Times - Friday, July 17, 2009

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor appeared on the fast track to confirmation as the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee said Thursday that he and his colleagues would not filibuster her historic nomination.

The final day of the judge’s testimony did not go entirely smoothly. The National Rifle Association (NRA) came out strongly in opposition to her nomination, and the New Haven, Conn., firefighter who has become the public face of one of her most fiercely debated decisions testified before the panel.

Firefighter Frank Ricci said Judge Sotomayor’s decision in a “reverse” discrimination case had reduced him and his fellow plaintiffs to “racial statistics.”

“Americans have the right to go into our federal courts and have their cases judged on the Constitution and/or federal laws and not on politics or personal feelings,” said Mr. Ricci one of 19 firefighters, all white, who sued for discrimination after the city threw out an employment test in which none of the minority applicants qualified for a promotion.

Judge Sotomayor and her colleagues on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals sided with New Haven, but the Supreme Court on a 5-4 vote last month overturned their decision.

But throughout the day Republicans were softening their critiques of the first Hispanic nominated to the high court, saying her record on the bench was more moderate than some of the speeches and off-the-cuff remarks she has made.

“Your record as a judge has not been radical by any means,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican. “It’s, to me, left of center. But your speeches are disturbing, particularly to conservatives.”

Chairman Patrick J. Leahy said a vote to send the nomination to the full Senate could come as soon as next Tuesday but noted the minority had the right to push that date back a week. The Vermont Democrat expressed confidence that President Obama’s first high court pick would be approved before the court meets in September to consider cases for its next term.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the panel’s ranking Republican, said he would not stand in the way of a Senate floor vote before lawmakers leave for their August recess.

“I will not support - and I don’t think any member of this side will support - a filibuster or any attempt to block a vote on your nomination,” Mr. Sessions told the judge. “We all need to take our time and think it through and cast it honestly, as the occasion demands, but I look forward to you getting that vote before we recess in August.”

Mr. Sessions did not say whether he would vote against her, though at least one fellow Republican, Mr. Graham, hinted he may join the majority Democrats in supporting her.

If confirmed, the Bronx-born appeals court judge would replace retiring Justice David H. Souter.

For her part, Judge Sotomayor appeared to loosen up a bit, delivering longer answers and not speaking as slowly as she had on the first days of questioning.

She repeated Thursday that she would follow the rule of law and apologized anew for her controversial remark arguing that a “wise Latina woman” would tend to make better decisions than a “white male.”

“I regret that I have offended some people,” she said. “I believe that my life demonstrates that that was not my intent - to leave the impression that some have taken from my words.”

While likely failing to derail Mr. Obama’s first Supreme Court pick, some conservatives argued that the hearings had laid down some markers - on judicial activism, gun rights and racial preferences, among other issues - for future judicial battles with Mr. Obama.

“Republicans have done an excellent job of raising several key issues that resonate with the American people,” according to a new memo from Republican strategist Ralph Reed, “so much so that any red or purple state Democrat contemplating a vote for [Judge Sotomayor] should be very nervous.”

The NRA also came out strongly in opposition to Judge Sotomayor’s nomination.

“We believe any individual who does not agree that the Second Amendment guarantees a fundamental right and who does not respect our God-given right of self-defense should not serve on any court, much less the highest court in the land,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and Executive Director Chris W. Cox said in a joint letter released Thursday.

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