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WH: Election Year Politics Not A Factor In Kagan Pick

Since President Reagan took office in 1981, 12 seats on the United States Supreme Court have become open. Until this year, only four of those openings occurred in an election year. Yet despite an increasingly contentious environment and the strong likelihood that Democrats will lose seats after elections this fall, White House officials today said that political circumstances played no role in President Obama's choice of Solicitor General Elena Kagan.

"The president came at this process with an appreciation for what a historic choice and responsibility picking a Supreme Court justice is, and I think he picked the person he thought would make the best justice for the Supreme Court. He did that without regard to the number of Democrats we have in the Senate, without regard to the fact that this is an Election Year, without regard to any of those extraneous factors," Ron Klain, chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, told RCP at a briefing this morning.

Leading up to today's announcement there had been speculation that the president, aware that his 59-seat Senate majority is unlikely to last, might favor a potentially contentious candidate from the short list now and save a more centrist choice, like Merrick Garland, for the future when that majority is narrower. But press secretary Robert Gibbs spoke of the folly of that line of thinking.

"My guess is every administration walks out of here with a file of who they were going to nominate next, and never got the opportunity to nominate that person," he said. "You can be too cute by half trying to narrowcast and look ahead. I would reiterate what Ron said - this is about picking the best person at that time and not with a lot of moving chess pieces."

Continue reading "WH: Election Year Politics Not A Factor In Kagan Pick" »

Shepherding Kagan

Among the many senators and would-be senators reacting to President Obama's nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court is Dan Coats, fresh off his win in the GOP primary in Indiana. In a statement this morning, Coats notes his experience in 2005 as the so-called "sherpa" for the nomination Samuel Alito (leaving out the failed nomination of Harriet Miers before it).

"There are some real questions as to whether Elena Kagan is a strict constructionist in the mold of Samuel Alito, whom I shepherded through the confirmation process, and Hoosier John Roberts - individuals who adhere to the intentions of our Founding Fathers and faithfully interpret the Constitution - or someone who views the Constitution as a 'living document' that can be altered to push a radical agenda," Coats says in the statement. "A number of hard questions must be asked to ensure Ms. Kagan will work to protect the Constitution, not rewrite it."

I spoke to Coats about that role he played for a piece last year about the process of steering a nominee through the confirmation process. He called it then "a straining, draining three-month process that sapped every ounce of your energy." You can read more here.

This morning Ron Klain, the chief of staff to Vice President Biden and a veteran of the process himself, told reporters that White House Counsel Bob Bauer will be heading up the Kagan confirmation, and that associate counsel Susan Davies will accompany her as she begins the series of "courtesy calls" to senators this week. On the timing, press secretary Robert Gibbs noted that they are ahead of last year's timeline for the Sotomayor process, adding: "We would certainly expect that a hearing can happen and a vote can happen before the Senate goes home in August."

Obama Faces Tougher Fight Over Next Supreme Court Choice

Barely a year removed from the last retirement announcement, the Supreme Court appears likely to have another vacancy in the offing. The senior justice, John Paul Stevens, hinted in a pair of interviews this weekend that he may step down at this session's end, a decision that would give President Barack Obama his second appointment in as many years.

After passing health care legislation in March, it might seem hard to imagine a tougher political battle for this White House. And the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor was hardly a picnic either. But recent history shows that presidents' second Supreme Court nominations have been considerably more difficult.

In 2005 President George W. Bush chose John Roberts to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first vacancy on the Court in more than a decade. But the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist just months later led to a change in plans. Faced with simultaneous vacancies, Bush decided to instead name Roberts to fill Rehnquist's seat on September 6, 2005; he was confirmed by a vote of 78-22 by month's end.

Continue reading "Obama Faces Tougher Fight Over Next Supreme Court Choice" »

Who Won and Lost In The Supreme Court Decision

If there was any question which political party was the winner and loser in the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, just take a look at the instant reactions by congressmen and senators. Although the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill was technically bipartisan, many Republicans have been against it from the beginning and were overjoyed following the 5-4 decision that overturned key parts of the bill.

"Freedom won today in the Supreme Court," said House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence, who's considering a run for Senate in Indiana. "In 2003, the Supreme Court unwisely supported the oppressive restrictions on free speech that were part of the 2002 campaign finance law. At the time, I was honored to stand with Senator Mitch McConnell and various state and national organizations in challenging this historic error in court."

McConnell, now the Senate minority leader, was similarly approving of the decision. "For too long, some in this country have been deprived of full participation in the political process," he said. "Our democracy depends upon free speech, not just for some but for all."

The "deprived" McConnell mentioned are corporations, whose limitations on political donations were lifted with this ruling. As Michael Waldman, executive director at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU law school, wrote today in an op-ed in the Washington Post, "An immediate question raised by the...decision is whether this will flood elections with suddenly legal corporate money."

Democrats absolutely think it will -- and don't like it. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said the decision "will allow the money of corporate interests to flood the political process, will undermine free and fair elections and further erode voters' confidence in our system of Democracy." He called it "a major victory for oil companies, banks, health insurance companies and other special interests that already use their power over Washington to drown out the voices of regular Americans."

Some political operatives aren't so sure it's a win-lose situation for the parties just yet. Roy Behr, a Democratic consultant in California, says, "Predicting the long-term impact on a decision like this is a lot like trying to predict the weather six months from now -- the truth is we really don't know." However, Behr said, for candidates with a few deep-pocketed donors, "this could be an incredibly liberating decision."

"There could be hundreds of thousands if not millions in spending that candidates wouldn't have seen before," he said.

In his Daily Beast column and in an e-mail to RCP, Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to John McCain and George W. Bush, notes that big donors from both parties are the real winners -- and there's one main loser.

"It's great for labor. It's great for business. It's lousy for voters," McKinnon told RCP.

Obama Statement On Sotomayor

President Obama spoke from the Diplomatic Room of the White House shortly after the Senate confirmed his choice for the Supreme Court.

Hello, everybody. Well, I am pleased and deeply gratified that the Senate has voted to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor as our nation's 111th Supreme Court justice.

I want to thank the Senate Judiciary Committee, particularly its Chairman, Senator Leahy -- as well as its Ranking Member, Senator Sessions -- for giving Judge Sotomayor a thorough and civil hearing. And I thank them for doing so in a timely manner so that she can be fully prepared to take her seat when the Court's work begins this September.

The members of our Supreme Court are granted life tenure and are charged with the vital and difficult task of applying principles set forth at our founding to the questions and controversies of our time. Over the past 10 weeks, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate have assessed Judge Sotomayor's fitness for this work. They've scrutinized her record as a prosecutor, as a litigator, and as a judge. They've gauged her respect for the proper role of each branch of our government, her commitment to faithfully apply the law to the facts at hand, and her determination to protect our core constitutional rights and freedoms.

And with this historic vote, the Senate has affirmed that Judge Sotomayor has the intellect, the temperament, the history, the integrity and the independence of mind to ably serve on our nation's highest court.

This is a role that the Senate has played for more than two centuries, helping to ensure that "equal justice under the law" is not merely a phrase inscribed above our courthouse door, but a description of what happens every single day inside the courtroom. It's a promise that, whether you're a mighty corporation or an ordinary American, you will receive a full and fair hearing. And in the end, the outcome of your case will be determined by nothing more or less than the strength of your argument and the dictates of the law.

These core American ideals -- justice, equality, and opportunity -- are the very ideals that have made Judge Sotomayor's own uniquely American journey possible. They're ideals she's fought for throughout her career, and the ideals the Senate has upheld today in breaking yet another barrier and moving us yet another step closer to a more perfect union.

Like so many other aspects of this nation, I'm filled with pride in this achievement and great confidence that Judge Sotomayor will make an outstanding Supreme Court justice. This is a wonderful day for Judge Sotomayor and her family, but I also think it's a wonderful day for America.

Thank you very much, everybody.

Sotomayor Confirmed Next Supreme Court Justice

The Senate today confirmed Sonia Sotomayor as the next Supreme Court Justice on a 68-31 vote. The former prosecutor and U.S. District and Circuit Court judge becomes the first Latina to sit on the nation's highest court.

Sotomayor will replace the retiring David Souter, who was nominated by George H.W. Bush but often voted with the more liberal members of the Court.

The result carried little suspense, as most senators had already confirmed which way they would vote. Nine Republicans joined 59 Democrats in voting to support Sotomayor's confirmation. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) was the only senator to not vote.

President Obama's nomination of Sotomayor became official June 1, though he had publicly announced his decision a week earlier. During the week-long Senate Judiciary Committee's nomination hearings that began July 13, Sotomayor faced her toughest questioning from Republicans on her speeches, connections with a Puerto Rican legal fund and her 2nd Circuit Court decision that was overturned recently by the Supreme Court.

On July 28, the Judiciary Committee sent Sotomayor's confirmation to the full Senate on a 13-6 vote. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was the only Republican to vote in favor of her nomination.

"I am particularly humbled to be a witness to history today as we confirm our first Latina Supreme Court Justice," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a released statement following the vote. "I commend Chairman Leahy for his leadership and dedication to a fair, thorough confirmation process. I also thank my Senate colleagues who joined me in casting this vote for Judge Sotomayor today -- I am particularly encouraged by my Republican colleagues who put partisanship aside and voted for this extraordinary woman on her merits."

McCain To Vote No On Sotomayor Nomination

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced today that he'll vote no when Sonya Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination comes to a final vote.

In a statement more than 1,700 words long, the former Republican standard bearer says that the Bronx-born judge "has the professional background and qualifications that one hopes for in a Supreme Court nominee," and has a life story that "is inspiring and compelling."

"However, an excellent resume and an inspiring life story are not enough to qualify one for a lifetime of service on the Supreme Court," he says. And he points to the case of Miguel Estrada, a conservative judge thought to be an eventual high court pick, whose nomination to the DC Circuit Court was filibustered by Democrats.

The vote is significant on a number of levels. First, it's a noteworthy break with his close colleague, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), who was the only Republican on the Judiciary Committee to vote yes. Also, McCain faces re-election next year in a state with a significant Hispanic population. Yet he faces a potentially trickier fight in a primary against anti-illegal immigration advocate Chris Simcox.

You can read McCain's full statement after the jump.

Continue reading "McCain To Vote No On Sotomayor Nomination" »

Sen. Kyl Won't Support Sotomayor

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said today he will not vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. The Senate is set to vote on her confirmation this week after the Judiciary Committee approved her nomination July 28.

"For 220 years, presidents have sought out judges and justices who fulfill the requirement that they put aside any personal opinions and apply appropriate U.S. law to impartially resolve disputes," Kyl wrote in a long statement. "I have not been persuaded that Judge Sotomayor will uphold this important tradition. For these reasons, and others, I will oppose her confirmation."

Kyl, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, first announced his opposition to Sotomayor's nomination July 22. Just one Republican on the committee, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, voted to send her nomination to the floor of the Senate.

Kyl said Sotomayor's judicial record gives him "reason to believe she will not set aside her own personal biases when deciding a case."

Senate Judiciary Approves Sotomayor Nomination

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved today the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, voting 13-6 in her favor. All 12 Democrats on the committee and one Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), voted to report the nomination to the Senate floor.

"As her record and her testimony before the Committee reinforced, she is a restrained, fair and impartial judge who applies the law to the facts to decide cases," said Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy prior to the vote. "Ironically, the few decisions for which she has been criticized are cases in which she did not reach out to change the law or defy judicial precedent - in other words, cases in which she refused to 'make law' from the bench."

He continued, "I have every confidence that she will be that kind of Justice of the United States Supreme Court."

The Senate is expected to confirm Sotomayor to the bench within the next two weeks, before it leaves for August recess.

Grassley Voting No On Sotomayor Nomination

For the first time in his Senate career, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) will cast a no vote on the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee. He explained his decision in an interview with the Des Moines Register:

Grassley said Sotomayor did little to dispel his suspicions that the federal appeals court judge would not defer to the role of Congress in making law and the separation of powers. He said that has been a nagging concern for him about retiring Justice David Souter, whom Sotomayor would succeed on the court.

"And consequently, I don't want someone succeeding him who doesn't have a clear role of what the Supreme Court is," Grassley told The Des Moines Register.

Of the seven Republican members of the Judiciary Committee, all but one so far is voting against Sotomayor. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) is the only yes vote; Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has not yet announced his choice.

Hatch, Cornyn Won't Support Sotomayor

Two Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans announced today that they will not support Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. Senators Orrin Hatch (Utah) and John Cornyn (Texas) said that her judicial philosphy -- which they gathered from her statements, speeches and decisions -- was not up to par.

The senators' announcements come two days after fellow Judiciary Republican Lindsey Graham (S.C.) announced he would be voting in favor of Sotomayor. Graham became the fifth GOP senator to support her, following Susan Collins (Maine), Richard Lugar (Ind.), Mel Martinez (Fla.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine). Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who sits on Judiciary, announced his opposition Wednesday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on Sotomayor's nomination Tuesday, but Republicans asked for one more week to review her record and submit additional written questions to her. The vote will now be held the morning of July 28. With a large Democratic majority on the committee and full Senate, Sotomayor is expected to be confirmed with votes to spare.

Chamber of Commerce Endorses Sotomayor

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed today Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. The usually-Republican leaning group joins four Republican senators who have already announced their support for President Obama's nominee.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary members, R. Bruce Josten, the Chamber's executive director of government affairs wrote:

"Pursuant to our long-standing endorsement policy, the Chamber evaluated Judge Sotomayor's record from the standpoint of legal scholarship, judicial temperament, and an understanding of business and economic issues. Based on the Chamber's evaluation of her judicial record, Judge Sotomayor is well-qualified to serve as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Her extensive experience both as a commercial litigator and as a trial judge would provide the U.S. Supreme Court with a much needed perspective on the issues that business litigants face. Consistent with her Senate testimony, the Chamber expects Judge Sotomayor to engage in fair and evenhanded application of the laws affecting American businesses."

Graham Will Support Sotomayor

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced on the Senate floor today that he will vote to support Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation to the Supreme Court.

"I choose to vote for Judge Sotomayor because I believe she is well-qualified," Graham said.

I wrote last week about the likelihood of Graham voting for the nominee and his reasons for doing so. From the floor, Graham railed against -- in his calm voice -- the filibusters Democrats placed on President Bush's judicial nominees. He hopes Democrats will offer future conservative nominees and presidents the same deference that he's showing.

"What am I trying to do today? I'm trying to start over," Graham said today. "I hope we can get back to a more traditional sense of what the Senate is all about."

Graham becomes the fifth GOP senator to announce his support for Sotomayor.

McConnell To Oppose Sotomayor Nomination

In a floor speech Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will announce his opposition to the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Here is an excerpt from what he will say:

Judge Sotomayor's record of written statements suggests an alarming lack of respect for the notion of equal justice, and therefore, in my view, an insufficient willingness to abide by the judicial oath. This is particularly important when considering someone for the Supreme Court since, if she were confirmed, there would be no higher court to deter or prevent her from injecting into the law the various disconcerting principles that recur throughout her public statements. For that reason, I will oppose her nomination.

Earlier today, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) became the first Republican to announce he will support Sotomayor's nomination. Joining him in announcing their support today was Sens. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). Democrats have said they expect "a number of Republicans" to support the nominee.

Republicans For Sotomayor

This morning, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) became the first Republican to announce his support for Judge Sotomayor.

"I have listened to the testimony of Judge Sonia Sotomayor before the Senate Judiciary Committee, carefully reviewed her public service record, and reviewed recommendations from Indiana constituents and colleagues here in the Senate. Judge Sotomayor is clearly qualified to serve on the Supreme Court and she has demonstrated a judicial temperament during her week-long nomination hearing. Judge Sotomayor has had a distinguished career of public service. She is well regarded in the legal community and by her peers. I will vote to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to serve as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States."

And now, though he doesn't have a vote and isn't even running for the Senate, Republican Chris Christie (R) issues a press release saying he'd support her nomination to the bench.

"After watching and listening to Judge Sotomayor's performance at the confirmation hearings this week, I am confident that she is qualified for the position of Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Elections have consequences. One of those consequences are judicial appointments.  While Judge Sotomayor would not have been my choice, President Obama has used his opportunity to fill a seat on the Supreme Court by choosing a nominee who has more than proven her capability, competence and ability. I support her appointment to the Supreme Court and urge the Senate to keep politics out of the process and confirm her nomination. Qualified appointees should be confirmed and deserve bi-partisan support. ... This is a historic moment and her inspiring success story should not only make the Latino community proud, but all Americans."

The New Jersey gubernatorial hopeful seems to be making a play for independent and even Democratic votes in the Garden State.

Groups Question Sotomayor on 2nd Amendment

Sonia Sotomayor completed three days of question-and-answer sessions today, and now must wait until July 28 to find out whether the Senate Judiciary Committee will approve her nomination. If she's approved, as expected, leaders in both parties have said a vote will come before the August recess.

While members of both parties expect Sotomayor to receive bi-partisan support when the full Senate votes, some organizations are playing up her answers on the 2nd Amendment in a push for Republicans to oppose her.

In a lengthy statement, the National Rifle Association announced today it opposes Sotomayor's confirmation based on her answers on the 2nd Amendment. The Republican National Committee released a web video, titled "Tough to Say," that questions what Sotomayor's stance on the 2nd Amendment is.

Dem Leaders See GOP Support for Sotomayor

Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) believe Sonia Sotomayor won't need to rely solely on Democratic votes for confirmation.

The three Democratic leaders, along with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), lavished praise on the Supreme Court nominee today in their weekly off-camera briefing with reporters and said they expect some of their colleagues from the other side of aisle to back President Obama's nominee.

"I think that when it's all over, it's not going to be just Democrats who" vote for her, Reid said. "I think there's going to be a vote with a number of Republicans voting for her."

Durbin said "a number of Republicans" have spoken with him, and it's his belief that "she will receive a substantial number of Republican votes. I can't tell you how many."

Schumer, who formally introduced Sotomayor to the Judiciary Committee on Monday, concurred. "I think we're going to get a good number of Republican votes," Schumer said.

"She's just wowed the committee," said Schumer. "A number of Republicans came over to me after the first day and then the second day and said, 'Wow, she is good.' They knew they didn't lay much of a glove on her."

Reid said he hopes the committee hearings will "end soon" so Sotomayor's confirmation can be brought up for a vote "as soon as possible." He also indicated that before the Senate breaks August 7 for its month-long recess the chamber will vote on the Department of Defense Authorization Act, Sotomayor's confirmation and health care.

GOP Senators Not Happy With Answers

"I don't think the nominee's answers today are any clearer than they have been," Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) told reporters during the 15-minute break in confirmation hearings this morning. "It's muddled, confusing, backtracking on issue after issue. I frankly am a bit disappointed in the lack of clarity and consistency in her answers."

"We have not yet had satisfactory answers," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Republicans aren't happy with what Sonia Sotomayor has had to say today, through four questioners -- two Democrats and two Republicans. Unfortunately for the GOP, though, they're out of members.

Just four Democrats are left to ask Sotomayor 30 minutes worth of questions, though Republicans will have a another shot at her in the second round, with 20 minutes allotted to each.

Sotomayor Hearings, Day 3

The Senate Judiciary Committee is closing in on two hours of question-and-answer with Sonia Sotomayor today. Starting 9:30 a.m., with 30 minutes alloted to each senator, Sotomayor's has faced questions from John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

The remaining four members of the committee -- all Democrats -- will question Sotomayor today as well. They include, in order, Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Ed Kaufman (Del.), Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Al Franken (Minn.).

Eleven committe members questioned Sotomayor yesterday -- the most tense moments coming in the afternoon during Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) 30 minutes. For more on Graham and his approach to the confirmation hearings, check out my story today.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) has bigger plans for the Supreme Court confirmation hearings than simply scrutinizing Sonia Sotomayor's judicial record and credentials. Graham wants to show the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee that disagreeing with a nominee's ideology is not reason enough to vote against them.

Watch the hearings live at RealClearPolitics Video.

Confirmation Hearings Done for the Day

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has called into recess the hearings on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Eleven of the 19 committee members questioned the nominee today, and questioning will begin again tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.

Following the hearing's conclusion, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Sotomayor put on "a bravura performance." Asked if he'd learned anything about the nomninee over the last couple of days of confirmation hearings, Leahy said, "Not really."

Sotomayor on 'Balls and Strikes'

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) asked Sonia Sotomayor about the "umpire calling balls and strikes" analogy used by Justice John Roberts during his 2005 hearings.

"Few judges can claim they love baseball more than I do, for obvious reasons, but analogies are always imperfect," she said. A judge must "be impartial and bring an open mind to cases before them" and someone "who looks at the facts of each case, listens and understands the arguments of the parties, and applies the law to the facts at hand. And that's my description of judging."

Asked whom on the current Court she could see herself agreeing with the most, Sotomayor declined to answer. However, she did say the justice she most admired from previous courts, based on "his great respect for precedent," is Benjamin Cardozo -- who was nominated to the Court in 1932 by Herbert Hoover to succeed Oliver Wendell Holmes.

"His great respect for respect and deference to the legislative branch and the other branches of government and their powers under the Constitution," she said. "That is how I approach the law -- as a case-by-case application of law to facts."

Senators Asking Questions

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is currently taking questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which she's scheduled to do for the remainder of the day. Each committee member gets 30 minutes.

Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) kicked things off at 9:30 a.m., giving Sotomayor an opportunity to speak about the issues she's been criticized for the most -- her decision in the Ricci v. DeStefano case and her "wise latina" remark.

Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is now pressing Sotomayor on whether or not she looks at each case with impartiality -- which he says would be at odds with "seven speeches" she gave. Judges need to "put aside their personal biases and make sure that person gets a fair day in court," he said.

"It's clearly not what I do as judge. It's clearly not what I intended," Sotomayor said. The speeches were "meant to inspire young Hispanic students and lawyers that their experiences" could help them in their careers.

WATCH THE HEARINGS LIVE: RealClearPolitics Video

Recent Supreme Court Confirmation Votes

Many, including some Republican senators, believe Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation is a foregone conclusion -- barring a "complete meltdown," as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) put it today in his opening remarks. However, it's unclear how much support Sotomayor, nominated by President Obama, will have among GOP senators.

Here is a breakdown of the Supreme Court confirmation votes under the previous three presidents and how supportive the opposing party has been.

(President George W. Bush nominated Samuel Alito and John G. Roberts. President Bill Clinton nominated Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. President George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas and David Souter.)

Nominee....Nominated By....Roll Call...Opposing Party Yea Votes
Alito.............Bush 43............58-42.............4 Dems
Roberts........Bush 43............78-22.............22 Dems
Breyer..........Clinton..............87-9...............33 GOPers
Ginsburg......Clinton...............96-3...............41 GOPers
Thomas.........Bush 41...........52-48.............11 Dems (1 GOPer opposed)
Souter...........Bush 41...........90-9...............46 Dems

Sotomayor's Opening Statement

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor delivered the following statement today, beginning at about 2:55 p.m. ET (as prepared for delivery):

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I also want to thank Senators Schumer and Gillibrand for that kind introduction.

In recent weeks, I have had the privilege and pleasure of meeting eighty-nine gracious Senators, including all the members of this Committee. I thank you for the time you have spent with me. Our meetings have given me an illuminating tour of the fifty states and invaluable insights into the American people.

There are countless family members, friends, mentors, colleagues, and clerks who have done so much over the years to make this day possible. I am deeply appreciative for their love and support. I want to make one special note of thanks to my mom. I am here today because of her aspirations and sacrifices for both my brother Juan and me. Mom, I love that we are sharing this together. I am very grateful to the President and humbled to be here today as a nominee to the United States Supreme Court.

The progression of my life has been uniquely American. My parents left Puerto Rico during World War II. I grew up in modest circumstances in a Bronx housing project. My father, a factory worker with a third grade education, passed away when I was nine years old.

Continue reading "Sotomayor's Opening Statement" »

Franken Speaks

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), the newest member of both the Senate and Judiciary Committee, just delivered his opening remarks at the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings.

"I may not be a lawyer, but neither are the overwhelming majority of Americans," he said. "Yet all of us regardless of our backgrounds and professions have a huge stake in who sits on the Supreme Court and are profoundly affected by its decision."

On judicial activism and restraint, Franken cited a statistic that the late chief justice William H. Rehnquist voted to overturn more laws than liberal justices John Stevens and Stephen Breyer combined.

"I am wary of judicial activism, and I believe in judicial restraint," said Franken. "Except under the most exceptional circumstances, the judicial branch is designed to show deep deferance to the Congress and not make policy by itself."

Gallup: 53% Support Sotomayor Confirmation

A new Gallup poll finds 53% of Americans support the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, largely unchanged from late May. The number of people with no opinion has gone down 6 points to 13%, while the number opposed to her confirmation has increased 5 points to 33%.

Sotomayor's confirmation hearings take place this week, and Gallup's Jeffrey M. Jones writes, "There is not much evidence to suggest that Senate hearings change public support for Supreme Court nominees to a large degree."

Senate Leaders' Floor Comments on Sotomayor

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made statements from the Senate floor this morning regarding the opening of Judiciary Committee hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. Here are excerpts of their remarks:


"Today, July 13, is an historic day in America. Right now, Judge Sonia Sotomayor is testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee as President Obama's nominee for the highest court in our country. As we all know, she is the first Hispanic American to do so. Judge Sotomayor has a wide-range of experience not just in the legal world, but in the real world as well. Her understanding of the law is grounded not only in theory, but also in practice. Her record and qualifications are tremendous. She has worked at almost every level of our judicial system - as a prosecutor, litigator, a trial court judge and an appellate judge.

"That's exactly the type of experience we need on the Supreme Court. And when she is confirmed, she will bring to the bench more judicial experience than any sitting justice had when they joined the Court. Judge Sotomayor has been nominated by both Democratic and Republican presidents. She has been confirmed twice by the Senate with strong, bipartisan support. Her record is well-known and well-respected.

"We are committed to ensuring that Judge Sotomayor has a rigorous and reasonable confirmation hearing. We expect both sides to ask her tough questions, and we expect both the questions and their answers to be fair and honest."

Continue reading "Senate Leaders' Floor Comments on Sotomayor" »

Graham: You'll Be Confirmed, Save a 'Complete Meltdown'

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) began his opening statement by noting that no Republican president would nominate Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, but every Republican would have supported Miguel Estrada -- who was on the fast track to the Supreme Court before his nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this decade was halted by a Democratic filibuster.

"The Hispanic element of this hearing is important, but I don't want it to be lost that this is mostly about liberal and conservative politics more than it is anything else," Graham said. "Now unless you have a complete meltdown, you're going to get confirmed. And I don't think you will, but the drama being created here is interesting. My Republican colleagues who vote against you I assure you can vote for a Hispanic nominee -- they just feel unnerved by your speeches, and some things you've said, and some of your cases."

"I don't know how I'm going to vote, but my inclination is that elections matter," Graham said, indicating he was leaning toward supporting President Obama's nominee -- though he criticized Obama's standard for supporting a nominee when he was in the Senate.

Following Graham's statement, Leahy attempted to correct the record of Estrada's nomination process, which Sessions politely disagreed with.

CBS Poll: 4-in-10 Have Opinion of Sotomayor

A CBS poll out this morning finds 23% of adults hold a favorable opinion of Sonia Sotomayor, with 15% unfavorable. More than 60% said they don't know enough about the Supreme Court nominee, though that may change as Senate Judiciary Committee hearings begin today.

The survey, conducted July 9-12 of 944 adults with a margin of error of +/- 3%, finds Sotomayor's favorable number down from 30% last month, when her unfavorable rating was just 9%. Also, 30% now say Sotomayor should be confirmed, compared with 14% who say she shouldn't and 52% unsure.

Dem Talking Points on Sotomayor Nomination

Here are some talking points Senate Democrats have released on the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor:


-Sotomayor is the First Hispanic American Nominated to the Supreme Court.
-Sotomayor is the First Supreme Court Nominee in 52 Years to Have Both Federal District and Appellate Court Experience.
-Sotomayor is the First Person Nominated by Three Presidents of Both Parties to All Three Levels of the Federal Judiciary.
-Sotomayor is One of Small Group of Judges Nominated to the Federal Judiciary by Presidents of Different Parties.
-Sotomayor is the First Person Since 1957 Nominated to the Supreme Court to Have Served on Federal District Court.


-Sotomayor Will Bring More Federal Judicial Experience Than Any Jurist in 100 Years to the Bench.
-Sotomayor Will Bring More Overall Judicial Experience to the Court Than Any Nominee in the Past 70 Years.
-Sotomayor Will be the Only Current Supreme Court Judge With Trial Judge Experience.
-Judge Sotomayor Has Both Corporate and Public Legal Experience.

Sessions Starts With a Bang

Senate Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) just ended his opening remarks, in which he layed out his reasoning for questioning Sonia Sotomayor's judicial philosophy.

"Judge Sotomayor, we are inquiring into how your philosophy -- which allows for subjectivity in the courtroom -- affects your decision-making," Sessions said, citing specific case examples when she ruled on abortion, gun control, private property and capital punishment. Sessions also noted the Ricci case, in which he said her ruling was prejudiced against the white petitioners.

Sessions said he wants Americans to ask the following when the Sotomayor hearings conclude: "If I must one day go to court, what kind of judge do I wish to hear my case. Do I want a judge that allows his or her social, political or religous views to change the outcome. Or do I want a judge that impartially applies the law to the facts, and fairly rules on the merits without bias or prejudice. It's our job to determine which side of that fundamental divide the nominee stands."

Leahy's Opening Statement

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) just completed his opening statement in the hearings to examine the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Here is his opening statement, as prepared for delivery:

Today, we consider the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Our Constitution assigns just 101 of us the responsibility to act on behalf of all 320 million Americans in considering this important appointment. The President has done his part and made an historic nomination. Now it is up to the Senate to do its part on behalf of the American people.

President Obama often quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s insight that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Each generation of Americans has sought that arc toward justice. We have improved upon the foundation of our Constitution through the Bill of Rights, the Civil War amendments, the 19th Amendment's expansion of the right to vote to women, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the 26th Amendment's extension of the right to vote to young people. These actions have marked progress toward our more perfect union. This nomination can be another step along that path.

Continue reading "Leahy's Opening Statement" »

Sotomayor Hearings Witness List Released

The two senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee released a witness list for next week's hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Included on the Republicans' list of witnesses is Frank Ricci, a New Haven firefighter that brought suit against the city for denying him and 16 other white firefighters (and one Latino) a promotion because too few minorities passed an exam. As a U.S. appeals court judge, Sotomayor ruled against the group, though the Supreme Court overturned that ruling last week. Also appearing is Ben Vargas, the lone Latino petitioner who filed suit along with Ricci.

Democrats will call New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Major League Baseball pitcher David Cone, who played in New York a total of 13 seasons for both the Yankees and Mets.

Click through to see the entire list.

Continue reading "Sotomayor Hearings Witness List Released" »

Study: Sotomayor Tough On Crime

In the six years as a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor was more likely than her fellow judges to send a person to prison, especially if it was a white collar crime, a new study finds.

The study, released this morning by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, analyzed 7,750 prosecutions handled by the 52 judges that served in the district from 1992 to 1998, when Sotomayor served there -- 261 of the prosecutions were handled by Sotomayor.

"By a range of different statistical measures, Judge Sotomayor was -- across the board -- a comparatively stiff sentencer, a judge who imposed prison time more often than was typical for her colleagues in the same district," TRAC reports.

Of the white collar criminals that went before Sotomayor, she sentenced 52 percent to some prison time -- nearly all of which were given six months or more. She handed out prison sentences of two years or more to 24 percent of all the white collar cases brought before her.

Comparatively, the other judges sentenced 43 percent to some prison time, with 34 percent getting six months or more, and just 12 percent receiving sentences of at least two years -- half that of Sotomayor.

Sotomayor was also tougher with drug convictions. Her fellow judges handed out sentences to 81 percent of those convicted, with 79 percent receiving at least six months in prison. By contrast, Sotomayor gave prison sentences more than 85 percent of the time -- and each received six months or more.

Following her tenure as a district court judge, Sotomayor was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York, where she has served for the past decade. This study was released as the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to hold hearings on Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. The hearings begin Monday.

Stage Set for Sotomayor Hearings

Here's a bit from my piece today on the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings set to take place next week on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor:

The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to begin questioning a nominee for the United States Supreme Court for the third time in four years. Hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor begin Monday, though backroom strategizing and public persuasion efforts have transpired for weeks.

Senate Democrats, led by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (Vt.) and Charles Schumer (N.Y.), are pushing the message that Sotomayor, a former prosecutor and federal appellate judge, has the judicial experience and mainstream record to warrant confirmation. She would become the first Latina to sit on the Supreme Court after being nominated June 1 by the first African American to serve as president.

Read the rest here.

ABC/WaPo Poll: 62% Favor Sotomayor Confirmation

A new poll finds more than six in 10 Americans are in favor of the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court. The Washington Post/ABC News poll, conducted June 18-21 of 1,001 adults, finds 62% think she should be confirmed and 25% don't think she should.

Going back to Robert Bork's nomination in 1987, Sotomayor receives the second most initial support of a nominee -- Justice Clarence Thomas received the most support in 1991, with 63%.

By party, 79% of Democrats favor her confirmation, as do 64% of independents and 36% of Republicans. Just 11% of Democrats oppose her confirmation, as do 26% of independents and 43% of Republicans.

The Supreme Court this morning overturned a ruling endorsed by Sotomayor when she sat on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, and Judiciary hearings on her nomination are set to begin next month.

Supreme Court Overturns Sotomayor Ruling

As expected:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court has ruled that white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were unfairly denied promotions because of their race, reversing a decision that high court nominee Sonia Sotomayor endorsed as an appeals court judge.

It's unclear if this will have any impact on Judge Sotomayor's nomination, however. Confirmation hearings were due to begin in two weeks, though Republicans have been pushing for more time to review her legal record.

You can read the full decision here.

Sotomayor's Schedule

Judge Sonia Sotomayor continues today her tour of Capitol Hill meetings, which began June 2 -- one week after President Obama nominated her to the Supreme Court. Today, Sotomayor meets with Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and John Thune (R-S.D.).

Sotomayor met with six senators yesterday: Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.).

Sotomayor Schedule

Judge Sonia Sotomayor will visit with six senators today as she continues her Supreme Court nomination tour of Senate offices. From the White House press release:

Today, Judge Sotomayor will visit Capitol Hill to meet with the following Senators:

Senator Lamar Alexander
Senator Bob Bennett
Senator Saxby Chambliss
Senator Chris Dodd
Senator Byron Dorgan
Senator Jim Webb

Sotomayor's Day on the Hill

Here is Judge Sonia Sotomayor's schedule of meetings with senators on Capitol Hill today, according to the White House:

Senator Daniel Akaka
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
Senator Bill Nelson
Senator Jack Reed
Senator Debbie Stabenow
Senator Jon Tester
Senator Mark Udall

Yesterday she met with Sens. Sherrod Brown, Sam Brownback, Kent Conrad, Russ Feingold, Carl Levin, Joe Lieberman and Blanche Lincoln.

Sotomayor Hearings To Start July 13

The Senate Judiciary Committee has announced that the confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor will begin Monday, July 13, meeting a White House goal for its Supreme Court pick.

"There is no reason to unduly delay consideration of this well-qualified nominee," Judiciary Committee chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a statement. "Indeed, given the attacks on her character, there are compelling reasons to proceed even ahead of this schedule. She deserves the earliest opportunity to respond to those attacks."

Leahy also noted that hearings for now-Chief Justice John Roberts began 48 days after the choice was announced. Last week, press secretary Robert Gibbs had pointed out that on average, hearings had taken place 51 days after the announcements of the last nine justices. That would have meant a July 16 start date.

"I think what's important about the timing is that we get a Supreme Court justice not simply ready to hear cases at the beginning of the Court's work in October, but obviously so that that person can take part in the very important discussions in September as the new court decides which cases it's going to hear," Gibbs said last week.

Sotomayor Questionnaire Posted

The Senate Judiciary Committee has posted Judge Sonia Sotomayor's completed questionnaire. You can read the 172 page PDF here, and there's also a 130-page appendix.

For what it's worth, the White House notes that the questionnaire was submitted "just 9 days after being nominated to the Supreme Court," which makes it "the swiftest questionnaire completion in recent history."

Limbaugh, Gingrich Softening On Sotomayor?

Last week, both Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich emerged as top critics of Judge Sonia Sotomayor -- calling her a racist because of her 2001 "wise Latina" speech. Other Republicans, particularly those in elected office, urged restraint. And today it appears that message has been received.

On his radio show today, Limbaugh focused on Sotomayor's Catholic faith and the fact that she "doesn't have a clear record on abortion.

"Overturning Roe vs. Wade -- it would be huge," he said. "I could see a possibility of supporting this nomination if I could be convinced that she does have a sensibility toward life, in a legal sense. In a real sense."

The administration has expressed no concern about her position, however, even as some pro-choice groups did.

Meanwhile, Gingrich wrote today at Human Events expressing some regret over the harshness of his statements last week.

"My initial reaction was strong and direct -- perhaps too strong and too direct. The sentiment struck me as racist and I said so. Since then, some who want to have an open and honest consideration of Judge Sotomayor's fitness to serve on the nation's highest court have been critical of my word choice.

"With these critics who want to have an honest conversation, I agree. The word 'racist' should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable (a fact which both President Obama and his Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, have since admitted)."

Gallup: 54% Approve of Sotomayor Nomination

A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds Americans' initial support for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor "similar to what Gallup initially found for past nominees who were confirmed by the Senate, including Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Samuel Alito. Americans were slightly more positive toward John Roberts' nomination."

For Sotomayor, 54% approve of her nomination, while 24% are not in favor of it and 19% have no opinion.


Judiciary Leaders Split On Sotomayor Schedule

Senate Judicary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) have divergent ideas about when committee hearings on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court should take place.

While admitting hearings in June would be too soon, Leahy indicated that by July he hoped to begin hearings -- particularly so Sotomayor can publicly defend herself from "some of the most vicious" attacks Leahy said he's ever seen.

The Senate is out of session for the month of August, so hearings would have to wait until September, just a month before the Supreme Court enters a new session -- and when there would be a vacancy should Sotomayor not be confirmed by then.

Sessions, who said he really enjoyed his conversation with Sotomayor, feels that July hearings would not give members of the Judiciary Committee enough time to look over her extensive record. "I hope the chairman keeps an open mind," Sessions said to a scrum of reporters waiting outside his office, as Sotomayor exited a side door on her way to her next appointment.

Asked about some of Sotomayor's comments that have stirred controversy, Leahy said, "Of course life experience shapes you," whether you're from the South Bronx or South Burlington, Vermont. Sotomayor told him that "ultimately and completely, as a judge you follow the law."

White House Officially Nominates Sotomayor

The White House officially sent the Senate today the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. The administration also released a list of senators Sotomayor will meet with tomorrow in her first official trip to Capitol Hill. From the White House press release:

On Tuesday June 2nd, Judge Sotomayor will visit Capitol Hill to meet with the following Senators:

Majority Leader Reid
Republican Leader McConnell
Senator Leahy
Senator Sessions
Assistant Majority Leader Durbin
Assistant Republican Leader Kyl
Senator Schumer
Senator Hatch
Senator Feinstein
Senator Gillibrand

Gibbs: Sotomayor's Word Choice "Poor"

At the tail end of a more than hour-long press briefing White House press secretary made a stunning admission about the administration's Supreme Court pick while discussing her controversial 2001 speech.

"I think she'd say that her word choice in 2001 was poor," Gibbs said of Sonia Sotomayor's argument that a "wise Latina woman" would reach better conclusions than white men. "She was simply making the point that personal experiences are relevant to the process of judgment, that your personal experiences have a tendency to make you more aware of certain facts in certain cases, that your experiences impact your understanding. I think we'd all agree with that."

Gibbs then tried to compare her comment to remarks from now-Justice Samuel Alito during his confirmation hearing, when he said that while hearing cases involving immigrants, "I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't long ago that they were in that position."

"I think if she had the speech to do it all over again, I think she'd change that word," Gibbs said.

Asked how he came to that conclusion, Gibbs said he has been told as much from people Sotomayor has spoken with.

A moment earlier, Gibbs had responded to a new attack from Rush Limbaugh, who compared Sotomayor to David Duke.

"I don't think you have to be the nominee to find what was said today offensive," he said, pointing as well to other Republicans who have recently condemned Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich's claims that she's a racist. "It's sort of hard to completely quantify the outrage I think almost anybody would feel at the notion that you're being compared to somebody who used to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan."

Polls Find Americans Approve of Sotomayor

Two polls released in the past two days find a plurality of Americans approve of the selection of Sonia Sotomayor to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. A plurality of Republicans, however, disapprove of the president's choice.

In the Quinnipiac survey released this morning, 54 percent said they approve of Sotomayor, while 24 percent disapprove and 22 percent are undecided. The poll was taken of 1,438 registered voters nationwide from May 26-28, with a margin of error of +/- 2.6 percentage points.

Worded slightly different and based on just one night of polling (Tuesday, when the announcement was made), Gallup found that 47 percent think Sotomayor was either a good or excellent choice. This survey was based on interviews with 1,015 adults with +/- 3 percentage-point margin of error.

Most important, Gallup respondents said, to President Obama was Sotomayor's 17 years on the federal bench (61 percent), followed closely by her intellect (59 percent). Two-thirds also said that being a woman and Hispanic were at least somewhat important considerations in Obama's choice.

The Quinnipiac poll found that 70 percent believe the fact that Sotomayor could become the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice was at least somewhat important to Obama's decision making process.

That survey also found voters to be split on what U.S. senators should consider when deciding whether to support her nomination: 47 percent said senators should only look at whether she is qualified to serve, while 43 percent said her views on controversial issues like abortion and affirmative action should be considered. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans said her views on those issues should count, 56 percent of Democrats said only qualifications should matter, and independents were split, favoring qualifications by 2 points.

"Elections Have Consequences"

I wrote today about the role of the so-called "sherpa" in the Supreme Court confirmation process, getting some perspective from those who've held that role in past administrations. Among them was former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who was tasked with guiding first Harriet Miers, and then Samuel Alito through the process.

I started my conversation by asking him about his vote in 1998 to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Circuit Court -- he was one of 25 Republicans who backed her then. Coats explained that at the time, many Republicans were willing to defer to the president.

"We were really operating under the philosophy that elections have consequences, and the president had his or her right to select a nominee," he said. "I voted for a number of appointments where ideologically, people were on a different part of the spectrum than I was. But I operated on that basis."

Coats said, however, that Republicans have since had "some bitter pills" to swallow -- most recently with the nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, but having roots in the nomination of Robert Bork -- where Democrats did not show the same kind of deference to a Republican president. Threats of a filibuster against Alito were especially troubling.

He cautioned against using the Sotomayor nomination as an opportunity to rally under the Republican flag, but said they should engage in a vigorous debate on judicial philosophy. And to contrast with what he sees as Sotomayor's expansive view on the role of the judiciary ("make policy"), he reminded me of this quote from Alito during his confirmation process.

"Results-oriented jurisprudence is never justified, because it is not our job to try to produce particular results," Alito said. "We are not policymakers. We shouldn't be implementing any sort of policy agenda, or policy preference. The judiciary should always be asking itself whether it is straying over the bounds, whether it's invading the authority of the legislature."

Is Sotomayor A Racist?

That seems to be an emerging line of attack from opponents of the new Supreme Court nominee.

The criticism is based on two incidents involving Judge Sonia Sotomayor. First, a ruling in the Second Circuit upholding a decision by the city of New Haven to deny promotions to firefighters because minorities who took the test did not pass. Second, Sotomayor's quote in a 2001 speech, that a "wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion as a judge than a white male who has not lived that life."

The "racist" counterattack began when Rush Limbaugh called Sotomayor a "reverse racist" on his radio show yesterday.

"Here you have a racist - you might want to soften that, and you might want to say a reverse racist," he said. "And the libs of course say that minorities cannot be racists because they don't have the power to implement their racism. Well, those days are gone."

Former Rep. Tom Tancredo then said last night on MSNBC that Sotomayor "appears to be a racist," calling her 2001 statement both racist and sexist.

And just an hour ago, Newt Gingrich tweeted: "White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw."

Some argue that the White House invited a race discussion by focusing so heavily on her background in yesterday's rollout. Notably today, the administration is hosting a conference call with "legal experts" to discuss her nomination, however.

UPDATE: Robert Gibbs was asked about the Gingrich statement at today's press briefing. The press secretary said it's important for people involved in this debate to be "exceedingly careful with the way in which they've decided to describe different aspects of this impending confirmation."

White House Reacts To "Regrettably Predictable" Sotomayor Criticism

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs today called the early criticism of Judge Sonia Sotomayor "regrettably predictable," while saying that the administration was confident she can be confirmed before the Senate adjourns this summer.

At the daily press briefing, Gibbs called concerns raised about the Supreme Court pick's record premature, saying critics need to look at her full record.

"I don't think anybody could reasonably argue, based on looking at her cases, that she's somebody that legislates from the federal bench," Gibbs told reporters. "I think that an honest and fair hearing, which we believe that she'll get, will demonstrate somebody who understands and respects the law, somebody that honors and respects judicial precedent, and somebody that the president thinks is well qualified."

Gibbs lightly knocked a "cottage industry" that "revs up" for these judicial fights, but stuck to White House talking points about Sotomayor's moderate record, noting she was appointed to the federal bench by President George H. W. Bush. Republicans have been quick to point out, however, that the elder Bush was granting Senatorial courtesy to then-Sen. Patrick Moynihan of New York.

It was pointed out that seven current Republican senators voted to support Sotomayor's 1998 nomination to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Asked if the White House would consider "nay" votes by those senators hypocritical, Gibbs granted them a new opportunity to evaluate her record.

"I think they're certainly well positioned to support her again," he added.

The Rollout: Obama Praises Sotomayor's Experience

President Obama called Sonia Sotomayor "an inspiring woman" with a "distinguished career" as he nominated her to the Supreme Court today.

In choosing a justice, Obama said he had three qualifications. First, a "rigorous intellect" and "mastery of the law." Also, he said a judge must understand that his or her job is "to interpret, not make law."

But he said paramount was the quality of experience. "It is experience that can give a person a common touch and a sense of compassion, an understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live," he said.

Touting her qualifications, Obama said that the New York judge "would bring more experience on the bench and more varied experience on the bench than anyone currently serving on the United States Supreme Court had when they were appointed."

Of all the rulings she has made, he highlighted one in particular: to end an injunction that paved the way for Major League Baseball to resume after a lengthy strike. "Some say that Judge Sotomayor saved baseball," the president said.

Admitting her nervousness as she spoke to the audience in the East Room, Sotomayor thanked her family, especially her mother. "I am all I am because of her, and I am only half the woman she is," she said.

She highlighted the "challenging circumstances" of her life, coming from a Bronx housing project to this lofty status.

"This wealth of experiences, personal and professional, have helped me appreciate the variety of perspectives that present themselves in every case that I hear," she said. "I strive never to forget the real world consequences of my decisions on individuals, businesses and government."

Obama said he hoped the Senate would act "in a bipartisan fashion," noting that they confirmed Sotomayor twice already, and that she was first appointed to the federal bench by a Republican President, George H. W. Bush.

"And when Sonia Sotomayor ascends those marble steps to assume her seat on the highest court in the land, America will have taken another important step toward realizing the ideal that is etched about its entrance: Equal justice under the law," he said.

After the jump, see the White House's background briefing memo on Judge Sotomayor.

Continue reading "The Rollout: Obama Praises Sotomayor's Experience" »

25 Republicans Voted To Confirm Sotomayor In 1998

Sonia Sotomayor last faced a confirmation vote in the Senate in 1998, when President Clinton chose her for her current seat on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. A hold was placed on the nomination, but she was eventually confirmed on October 2 by a 67-29 vote.

In total, 25 Republicans voted for her nomination, while 29 voted against it. Of those who are still serving in the Senate, the vote breaks down 8 for, 11 against.

Here are the Republicans who voted for, and against, her nomination. Current members are in bold. Current members of the Judiciary Committee are bold and italics. (Note -- Specter is now a Democrat).

Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah)
Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.)
Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.)
Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.)
Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.)
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)
Sen. Al D'Amato (R-N.Y.)
Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio)
Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.)
Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.)
Sen. Rod Grams (R-Minn.)
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.)
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)
Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.)
Sen. Jim Jeffords (R-Vt.)
Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.)
Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.)
Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska)
Sen. Bill Roth (R-Del.)
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.)
Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.)
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.)

Sen. Tedd Stevens (R-Alaska)
Sen. John Warner (R-Va.)

Sen. Sepncer Abraham (R-Mich.)
Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.)
Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.)
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.)
Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.)
Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.)
Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho)
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.)
Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.)
Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.)
Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas)
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.)
Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.)
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas)
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla)
Sen. Dirk Kempthorne (R-Idaho)
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)
Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.)
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.)
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.)
Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.)
Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.)
Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.)