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Lawmakers End Questioning Of Sotomayor

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand in California.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel in Washington.

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has finished testifying in her confirmation hearings, and Democrats and Republicans see a clear path to vote on her confirmation. Rather than planning any challenges, Republicans say they expect an up or down vote by the full Senate before their recess begins on August 7th.

NPR's Nina Totenberg reports.

NINA TOTENBERG: Republicans went to a third round of questioning today, but it was clear they'd run out of steam. The recurring theme from the GOP was that the senators saw a, quote, "disconnect" between Judge Sotomayor's judicial decisions and her speeches, particularly a couple of now famous lines from those speeches. Senator Lindsey Graham.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): Last question on the wise Latino woman comment - to those who may be bothered by that, what do you say?

Judge SONIA SOTOMAYOR (U.S. Supreme Court Nominee): I regret that I have offended some people. I believe that my life demonstrates that that was not my intent to leave the impression that some have taken from my words.

TOTENBERG: Senator John Cornyn summed up his dilemma this way.

Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): Judge, you know, I actually agree that your judicial record strikes me as pretty much in the mainstream. What is creating this cognitive dissonance for many of us, and for many of my constituents who I've been hearing from, is that you appear to be a different person, almost, in your speeches.

TOTENBERG: That sentiment was echoed by Senator Tom Coburn.

Senator TOM COBURN (Republican, Oklahoma): I really see a dissonance about what you said outside of your jurisprudence. You are an admirable judge, an admirable woman. You have very high esteem in my eyes, for both your accomplishments and your intellect. I have yet to decide where I'm going on this.

TOTENBERG: After Sotomayor's testimony, the Judiciary Committee began hearing testimony from outside witnesses, first from the chair of the American Bar Association Judicial Screening Committee, Kim Askew.

She said that in evaluating Sotomayor's qualifications, the committee had interviewed 500 lawyers and judges, submitted Sotomayor's judicial opinions to three panels of practicing lawyers and scholars for review, interviewed the nominee herself and all the judges who've served with her, as well as many of the lawyers who practiced before her, including those made anonymous disparaging remarks about her to the American Almanac of the Federal Judiciary.

Out of all of those interviewed, said Askew, only 10 made critical remarks, and most of those did not practice regularly before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

Alabama's Republican Jeff Sessions was skeptical.

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): So you talked to those people and you're okay with that?

Ms. KIM ASKEW (Chair, American Bar Association Judicial Screening Committee): We absolutely are.

TOTENBERG: Indeed, the ABA's principle investigator, Mary Boies, said the committee went so far as to read transcripts of arguments in those cases where there was any criticism of Sotomayor's conduct, and to interview other judges on the panels and any lawyers who were in the courtroom at the time. The criticism, she said, were simply not substantiated.

This afternoon, the committee heard from a prominent Sotomayor critic, Frank Ricci, the lead plaintiff in the New Haven firefighters' reverse discrimination decision that Sotomayor joined and the Supreme Court reversed.

Mr. FRANK RICCI: The lower court's belief that citizens should be reduced to racial statistics is flawed. It only divides people who don't wish to be divided along racial lines. The very reason we have civil service rules is to root out politics, discrimination and nepotism. Our case demonstrates that these ills will exist if the rules of merit and the law are not followed.

TOTENBERG: Testifying with Ricci was Ben Vargas, who was the only Hispanic among the white firefighters who challenged the city of New Haven's decision to set aside the results of the promotion exam.

Mr. BEN VARGAS: I became not Ben Vargas, the fire lieutenant who proved himself qualified to be captain, but a racial statistic.

TOTENBERG: The Judiciary Committee wrapped up today, after hearing some 30 outside witnesses. The committee's expected to vote on the Sotomayor nomination in the next week and a half with a Senate floor vote before the August recess.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Nina Totenberg
Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.