No filibuster, but Sotomayor battle still looms
WASHINGTON – Republicans won’t try to filibuster Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination, a key GOP senator conceded Wednesday, all but admitting there’s little chance of blocking her confirmation as the first Hispanic justice. But senators and advocacy groups are still girding for this summer’s battle — partly with an eye toward raising money and perhaps preparing for Barack Obama’s next nominee.
Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he didn’t foresee a filibuster — essentially the only way that his party could try to stop Sotomayor since Democrats hold a solid majority of votes. Still, he made it clear that Republicans were ready to raise pointed questions about whether she would let her personal life color her legal opinions — and whether that’s appropriate for a Supreme Court justice.
“We have an absolute constitutional duty to make sure that any nominee, no matter what their background and what kind of life story they have, that we examine that so the American people can know that the person we give a lifetime appointment to … will be faithful to the law and not allow their personal views to influence decision-making,” Sessions said in an interview on NBC’s “Today.”
Organizations that have been preparing for a major confirmation battle — and that depend on such fights to raise money, motivate supporters and galvanize enthusiasm for their agendas — made it clear they don’t intend to sit out the debate, filibuster or no. The debate over Sotomayor could also lay groundwork for fights over later high court nominations the president might make.
Conservative groups kicked off a broad effort to persuade the public that Sotomayor, now a federal appeals judge, is an activist who would impose personal views and ethnic and gender biases on her interpretation of the law and the Constitution.
“Equal justice under law — or under attack?” a Web ad by the Judicial Confirmation Network asks. “America deserves better” than Sotomayor, it concludes.
The White House and liberal groups are hitting back with their own campaign to introduce Sotomayor to the public as an experienced and fair judge whose background gives her a better understanding of how the court affects real people and their lives.
“Principled. Fair-minded. Independent,” asserts a TV spot to be aired by the Center for Constitutional Values.
The dueling messages sketched the battle lines for what promise to be closely watched Senate hearings on Sotomayor’s nomination, with heavy political consequences for both parties.
Democrats, signaling that they hope to score political points against Republicans in the debate over Sotomayor’s nomination, e-mailed contributors telling them the GOP was “ready to obstruct.” Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the head of the party’s Senate campaign committee, wrote that “we have a fight on our hands.”
The judge’s Capitol Hill debut could come as early as next week, when top aides said she could begin making personal “courtesy calls” to Senate leaders and members of the Judiciary Committee.
For now, many of the senators who hold the judge’s fate in their hands are scattered in home states across the country or destinations around the world during their weeklong congressional break. There’s little public partisan debate about Sotomayor’s nomination.
In private, the 54-year-old Sotomayor — a veteran of the federal bench who was reared in a Bronx housing project and attended Princeton and Yale en route to the highest echelons of the legal profession — phoned key senators as she began preparing to face them in high-stakes hearings.
Since President Barack Obama announced her nomination Tuesday, she has spoken with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, as well as Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., the Judiciary chairman, and Sessions.
In interviews Wednesday, Sessions acknowledged that his party has to “broaden its tent” — a nod to warnings from strategists in both parties who say the GOP, struggling to draw a more diverse base, has to tread carefully in its treatment of Sotomayor, the New York-born daughter of Puerto Rican parents. But he said that won’t stop Republicans from scrutinizing her record and probing her fitness for the court.
Staffers on the Judiciary panel, which will run hearings on Sotomayor’s nomination, worked on researching her record and preparing a lengthy questionnaire the judge will have to answer in advance of the public question-and-answer session she will undergo with senators.
Meanwhile, the White House kept up the campaign that was set in motion with the announcement of her selection. They arranged a conference call for reporters with six legal experts and attorneys who are Sotomayor boosters to rebut charges that she would bring a personal agenda to the court or strive to use rulings to make policy.
“Judge Sotomayor is not the kind of judge who thinks it is her job to fix every social ill in the world, or that her position is the only one that matters,” said Kevin Russell, a lawyer who has argued before her.