Leader says GOP won't filibuster on Sotomayor

But Sessions vows a grilling for court pick

Associated Press / May 28, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Republicans won't try to filibuster Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination, a key GOP senator conceded yesterday, all but admitting there's little chance of blocking her confirmation as the first Hispanic justice.

But Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, made it clear that Republicans are ready to raise pointed questions about whether she would let her personal life color her legal opinions - and whether that is appropriate for a Supreme Court justice.

"The nominee has serious problems," Sessions said in one of a series of national TV interviews yesterday. "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 . . . will be faithful to the law and not allow their personal views to influence decision-making."

Sessions, who was among 28 Republicans who voted against Sotomayor's nomination to the US Court of Appeals in 1998, is expected to be the key questioner on her judicial record. He recently became the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, which will hold her confirmation hearings, when Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania became a Democrat.

"I believe she's entitled to a fair slate now, a clean slate, a fresh start to examine the entire record in context and give her a chance to explain that," Sessions added. "There are troubling things that are going to have to be inquired into."

Sessions and Sotomayor have spoken by phone, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters yesterday. Sotomayor also spoke with Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Also, Sotomayor called Harry Reid, the top Democrat in the Senate, and Mitch McConnell, the top Republican, and will start making courtesy calls on senators next week, Gibbs said.

Judiciary staffers worked on researching her record and released a detailed, 10-page questionnaire yesterday that the judge will have to answer in advance of the public hearings. It asks Sotomayor to divulge personal, financial, and employment information and provide copies of all her writings, speeches, interviews, and opinions. She also has to list any potential conflicts of interest and describe how she would resolve them and reveal details about her nomination, including whether she was asked by anyone how she would rule on any potential Supreme Court case or issue, and how she responded.

President Obama has called on senators to confirm by early August his history-making choice of the 54-year-old Sotomayor to succeed Justice David Souter on the high court.

The GOP faces an uphill battle in defeating the New York-born daughter of Puerto Rican parents. Democrats hold 59 votes in the Senate, more than enough to confirm Sotomayor but not quite enough to stop a vote-blocking filibuster if Republicans should attempt one. Still, seven Republican senators currently serving backed Sotomayor's 1998 nomination to the appeals court covering New York, Vermont, and Connecticut, and she was first nominated to be a federal judge by President George H.W. Bush, a Republican.

Any Republican effort to block Sotomayor's confirmation could be risky for a party still reeling from last year's elections and struggling to gain back lost ground with Hispanics, the fastest-growing part of the population and one that is increasingly active politically. In the interviews yesterday, Sessions acknowledged that his party has to "broaden its tent."

The White House and its allies, including Hispanic groups with broad reach into communities throughout the country, are readying a major push to persuade more GOP senators to back her confirmation.