- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Republican senators opened a campaign Tuesday to stall Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s Senate confirmation process, arguing that Democrats had scheduled hearings too quickly, and one Republican lawmaker saying her answers about abortion and gun rights will give pause to conservatives.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont said Tuesday he would begin confirmation hearings for Judge Sotomayor on July 13, saying he chose the early date in part because of visceral attacks from conservative pundits.

But Republican senators said her lengthy judicial record - which has become a central selling point for Democrats and the White House - makes a speedy timeline inappropriate.

“I assume by stressing judicial experience they are saying that this overwhelmingly deep, broad, and vast judicial record provides us the basis on which to judge the nominees fitness for the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and veteran member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Well, that coin has two sides. The flip side is that a 17-year judicial career that has produced thousands of judicial decisions takes time adequately to evaluate and properly to consider,” he said.

As Judge Sotomayor continued meeting with the lawmakers who will decide whether to confirm her nomination to the Supreme Court, Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, said he was troubled by her responses to questions of gun rights and the rights of unborn children.

“She was unwilling to say the Second Amendment protects a fundamental right that applies to all Americans,” Mr. DeMint said in a statement after their meeting Tuesday. “When I asked if an unborn child has any rights whatsoever, I was surprised that she said she had never thought about it.”

A White House aide said the gun rights question revolved around the D.C. gun ban case decided by the Supreme Court last year and a portion of the Second Amendment which had been undecided in the majority opinion, making it improper for Judge Sotomayor to comment.

Judge Sotomayor had not thought about the rights of an unborn child because she had not been presented with a case on that issue, said the aide, speaking on background because of the private nature of the meeting between the nominee and the senator.

President Obama, who nominated Judge Sotomayor to the bench two weeks ago, has said he would like to see her confirmed by the Senate before Congress starts its summer recess in August to give her time to review cases before the high court reconvenes in October.

The Senate’s top Democrat and top Republican - who last week struck a cordial and reserved tone over the confirmation process - exchanged terse letters Tuesday about the timing of the hearings.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said that while Judge Sotomayor’s judicial record has been largely public and that documents for Senate Judiciary Committee members were delivered in record time, the confirmation hearings held for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. were fraught with delays and wrangling over private documents.

“Furthermore, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and Chief Justice [William H.] Rehnquist passed away while the Senate was considering Judge Roberts nomination to be an Associate Justice, leading to a week-long delay in his hearing after he was then nominated to be the new Chief Justice,” Mr. Reid wrote. “Despite these obstacles, Judge Roberts was confirmed 72 days after President Bush named him as a nominee to the Supreme Court.”

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Democrats seem to have forgotten some of what they said when they were in the minority during the last two Supreme Court confirmation battles.

“During the Senates considerations of both the Roberts and Alito nominations, we heard a lot from our Democratic colleagues about how the Senate was not a rubber stamp. Not a rubber stamp. And about how it was more important to do it right than to do it fast,” Mr. McConnell said Tuesday on the Senate floor.

Republican lawmakers had been pushing to hold the hearings later in the year, saying they wanted more time to review Judge Sotomayor’s record.

But Democrats hold a strong edge in the Senate, where they outnumber Republicans 59-40, and on the Judiciary Committee, where they hold a 12-7 edge on the 19-member panel.

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