Sotomayor meets aides shepherding nomination

Sonia SotomayorSonia Sotomayor, preparing for her first visit to the Senate since being nominated to the Supreme Court, met at the White House on Monday with administration lawyers who are working on her confirmation.

White House aides said Sotomayor was finalizing the answers to her Senate questionnaire and getting ready for one-on-one visits with key senators, part of the traditional rollout that precedes a nominee’s formal confirmation hearings.

On Tuesday, Sotomayor is expected to visit top senators, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the panel’s top Republican.

The roughly half-hour stops are as important for the courtly tone they set for the beginning of the Senate’s debate on Sotomayor as for the few moments of candid conversation they offer senators and the nominee. A more substantive debate over her record and past will come with the impending release of the detailed questionnaire, which will likely yield fodder both for her supporters and detractors.

President Barack Obama wants the Senate to confirm Sotomayor, who would be the high court’s first Hispanic justice and the third woman to serve there, before its monthlong August vacation.

Leahy on Monday stepped up his calls for a quick set of Judiciary Committee hearings, saying the sessions are Sotomayor’s only opportunity to respond to harshly worded criticisms lodged against her by prominent Republicans like talk show host Rush Limbaugh and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Both have branded Sotomayor a racist for comments she made in 2001 in which she said her decisions as a “wise Latina” judge would be superior to those of a white male. Limbaugh on Friday compared choosing her to tapping a former Ku Klux Klan leader for the job.

In a conference call Monday with reporters, Leahy said, “I’ll give everyone plenty of time to read all her cases and prepare for it. But I’m not going to sit around and wait forever and just have these attacks go on, be unanswered.” His remarks followed his comments Sunday, when he warned in a nationally broadcast interview that the rhetoric against Sotomayor could result in his stepping up the timetable for her confirmation hearings.

News photographers were allowed by the White House to take pictures of Sotomayor at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is next to the West Wing. She was meeting with a handful of people from the White House counsel’s office. No reporters were allowed in.

Aides said the meeting was one in a series she has had with staff members since Obama announced her nomination to the Supreme Court last Tuesday. If confirmed by the Senate, she would replace Justice David Souter, who has announced his retirement.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.