- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 20, 2009

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor on Friday resigned as a member of the all-women Belizean Grove club amid mounting pressure from Republican lawmakers.

“I believe that the Belizean Grove does not practice invidious discrimination and my membership did not violate the Judicial Code of Ethics, but I do not want questions about this to distract anyone from my qualifications and record,” Judge Sotomayor wrote in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, the committee’s ranking member.

Judge Sotomayor’s membership in the group has grown into an issue in her confirmation process since she revealed she was a member two weeks ago.

The American Bar Association (ABA) recommends that judges not be members of any group that discriminates based on gender, race or ethnicity. While the Belizean Grove consists of only women, Judge Sotomayor and the group’s founder said the group would admit men.

Susan Schiffer Stautberg, who founded the group nine years ago as an answer to the men-only Bohemian Grove club, said she learned of Judge Sotomayor’s decision Friday evening.

“I think this has all just become partisan politics,” Ms. Stautberg told The Washington Times on Friday evening. “What’s important right now is that Sonia, who is a woman with energy, intelligence and integrity, gets a chance to show that to the senators and show that she has the ability to be a Supreme Court justice.”

Over the past two weeks, no lawmakers or their staff members sought information from the Belizean Grove directly, Ms. Stautberg said. The club’s headquarters is in New York City.

Republican senators sent a letter to the White House last week seeking more information about the group and whether it violated ABA recommendations. Judge Sotomayor replied Monday that she did not think the group discriminated against men, noting that men are not barred from joining.

Membership in men-only clubs has been problematic before, including for Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy, who resigned their memberships before they were confirmed to the bench in the late 1980s.

The court’s first two women members, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, both belong to the International Women’s Forum, though their membership has not been a political liability.

Since coverage of the group and Judge Sotomayor’s involvement in the group ballooned this week, more than 30 men and close to 20 women have sought information about joining, Ms. Stautberg said.

In addition to announcing her resignation from the club, Judge Sotomayor on Friday filed a supplement to her Senate questionnaire that included details of speeches she gave between 1992 and 1995.

• Tom LoBianco can be reached at tlobianco@washingtontimes.com.

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