Five boxes of documents were delivered to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee from the White House Thursday, all designed to help flesh out Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
The reams of information, which staffers began uploading to the committee’s Web site Thursday afternoon, should start to fill out the picture of a Supreme Court candidate who has largely been defined in the last two weeks by a hard-knock life story, a handful of high-profile court rulings and remarks from a 2001 speech dubbed racist by conservative activists.
In answering the exhaustive Senate questionnaire Thursday, Judge Sotomayor said she was contacted by the White House about her prospects for a nomination four days before Justice David H. Souter publicly announced his plans to retire. Among drafts of 57 speeches, a list of more than 100 cases from which she had recused herself and videos of public remarks, the documents showed Judge Sotomayor had $1.16 million in assets but $418,350 in debts, including $15,000 in dentist bills.
“It has taken just one week for Judge Sotomayor to complete and return this detailed, bipartisan questionnaire to the Senate,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat. “She has advanced the confirmation process by promptly complying with this Senate requirement, and now the Senate should promptly schedule hearings to fairly consider her nomination to our highest court.”
It was in a 2001 speech that Judge Sotomayor said a “wise Latina woman” would reach better judicial decisions than a “white male” - a remark that spurred outrage among conservatives during an otherwise quiet confirmation process.
Another speech Judge Sotomayor delivered in 1994 that included a similar line but did not draw the ire of conservatives when it was included in her 1997 vetting packet for confirmation to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals is being circulated by Democrats and supporters.
The revelation, they said, shows the controversy over the remarks is overblown, but conservative activists said Thursday it undercuts the White House argument that Judge Sotomayor used a “poor choice of words” in her 2001 speech.
Judge Sotomayor said in the questionnaire that she delivered speeches similar to her 1994 speech on women in the judiciary three times between 1999 and 2000, though she did not include copies of those speeches.
Judge Sotomayor has spent the week paying courtesy calls to Democrat and Republican senators, allaying questions about her “wise Latina” remark and saying she would “ultimately and completely” follow the law if confirmed to the bench.
The White House and Democratic senators shepherding Judge Sotomayor have emphasized her depth of experience and her thousands of rulings as evidence she is qualified for the nation’s highest court.
In a 130-page appendix of the documents, Judge Sotomayor listed the thousands of cases she has presided over in her 17 years as a trial judge and appellate judge.
Lawmakers said Thursday they plan to sort through the documents as they prepare for confirmation hearings. Mr. Leahy and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, have yet to announce when confirmation hearings will start.