Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy has forged ahead with a July 13 start date for confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, pushing past Republicans who want more time to dig through her judicial and personal history.
Leahy today indicated that he was tired of Republican attacks on Sotomayor, arguing that it took John Roberts only 72 days to be confirmed from the time he was nominated and that Sotomayor was on a similar timeline.
"There is no reason to unduly delay consideration of this well-qualified nominee,” Leahy said. “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 told POLITICO he had a "long talk with the president," who is supportive of the hearing schedule.
Leahy continued: “In selecting this date I am trying to be fair to all concerned. I want to be fair to the nominee and allow her the earliest possible opportunity to respond to the attacks made about her character. It is not fair for her critics to be calling her racist without allowing her the opportunity to respond."
Republicans argue that they would need to read 76 cases a day to get prepared for the hearings, aides said. But Leahy said that's why members have staffs: "If we can't get that done, shame on us." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) a leading critic of Sotomayor, would not comment on the scheduling move, and would only say that he needs to consult with the Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
Sessions told reporters outside the Senate chamber that Leahy did not talk to him about the scheduling before announcing the July 13 date.
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"I'm really a bit surprised," Sessions said. "I don't think our side has the time to do this right. ... That's a rushed time frame, and I don't think that's necessary. I have serious doubts about [the time frame], but we're going to be working on it."
"I think it's a mistake to set artificial deadlines, but I think we'll be prepared for hearings on the 13th," adds Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, upped the Democratic offensive, saying that treating Sotomayor any different from Roberts or Samuel Alito was hardly fair.
“Chairman Leahy is to be commended for his leadership in scheduling this hearing. This provides more than enough time to study the record of a known quantity like Judge Sotomayor,” said Schumer. “Unlike was the case for Justice Roberts or Justice Alito, her entire record is already publicly available and is hardly inscrutable. There is no need to insist that her confirmation process take any longer than theirs did.”
Meanwhile, Sotomayor continues to make the rounds in the Senate, and on Tuesday, Florida Republican Mel Martinez stopped just short of pledging his support after a closed-door meeting with her, but made little secret that he was leaning in that direction.
“I am going to withhold any judgment about her nomination until after the Judiciary Committee hearings,” Martinez told reporters today, then adding: “I am very, very impressed with her — not only her personal qualities but also her qualities as a judge.”
Martinez is the second Republican senator to offer a glowing review of Sotomayor. Maine Republican Olympia Snowe said after her meeting with Sotomayor last week that she had been left impressed.
Martinez went so far as to come to Sotomayor’s defense over her widely reported use of a “wise Latina” remark in prior speeches, arguing that it did not appear that her voicing of that view would “filter” into her opinions on the bench.
&lduo;I think, for someone who is of Latin background, I understand what she is trying to say,” Martinez told reporters. “I think, based on my conversation with her, she was using that as rhetoric. But it is not part of how she makes opinions.”
But Martinez refused to criticize his Republican colleagues, many of whom have taken sharp aim at Sotomayor for her wise Latina remarks, for their handling of the nomination.
And he said that Republican senators had little control over how outside conservative voices approached Sotomayor.
“I am extremely proud of the way Republican senators have approached the nomination,” Martinez said.
Manu Raju contributed to this story.