Sotomayor Takes on Moot Confirmation Hearings

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Moot courts are a common exercise for judges and lawyers. But in recent days, Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor took part in moot confirmation hearings.

As part of her preparations for this week's trial-by-Senate Judiciary Committee, Sotomayor faced questions from members of the White House Counsel's office.

A White House official tells CBS News the practice sessions helped Sotomayor to review and defend her 17 years of rulings from the federal bench. The questions ranged from First Amendment issues to matters of criminal and immigration law.

It goes without saying, that the judge has also rehearsed answers to questions she is certain to face about her controversial statement that a "wise Latina" would often reach a better conclusion than a white male. The White House has said the comment was nothing more than a poor choice of words.

Sotomayor is also known to be ready to defend her ruling as part of a three-judge panel rejecting reverse discrimination claims of white firefighters in New Haven, Conn.

The mock hearings are a familiar technique used by White Houses of the past to prepare its nominees to the high court for the kind of tough, pointed and even disrespectful questions they may face. They are the kinds of questions a federal judge would never face on the bench.

Sotomayor has been through the Senate confirmation process twice before, as a nominee for judgeships on the federal District and Appeals Courts. But nothing can really prepare a nominee for the political and judicial heat he or she can face when up for a lifetime position on the Supreme Court.

Remember the questioning of a sexual nature faced by nominee Judge Clarence Thomas in 1991, who memorably denounced his confirmation hearings as "a circus," "a national disgrace" and "a high-tech lynching?"

President Obama telephoned his nominee yesterday to wish her good luck in this week's hearings. The White House says he complimented her for making courtesy calls on 89 Senators in which he is quoted as saying she discussed her "adherence to the rule of law throughout her 17 years on the federal bench."

Few things are as big a political blow to a president as to have his nominee to the Supreme Court fail to be confirmed. Mr. Obama told Sotomayor yesterday he is confident that won't happen to her.

Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here:
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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.