U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor Tuesday met with Senate leaders ahead of her confirmation hearings. Majority Democrats are hoping for a quick confirmation for the federal judge, but Republicans say they will need time to consider her lengthy record.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, was the first senator to meet privately with Sonia Sotomayor, a former prosecutor and private attorney who has served as a federal judge for the past 17 years.
He told reporters later that he came away from the meeting convinced that she would make a superb Supreme Court justice. "She is a very impressive person. In the meeting I had with her, she was frank, she was forthcoming and I repeat, impressive. Her record and qualifications speak for themselves," he said.
But Sotomayor has come under criticism from conservative leaders outside the Senate for a remark she had made suggesting that a Latina judge like herself might have better judgment than a white man who had not had the same life experience. Critics interpreted the comment to mean that Sotomayor relies on personal experiences in her judicial decision making. Some even suggested the comment was racist.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said he asked the nominee about the remark during his meeting with her.
"She said of course one's life experience shapes who you are. But ultimately and completely, and she used those words, ultimately and completely, as a judge, you follow the law. There's not one law for one race or another. There's not one law for one color or another, there's not one law for the rich and one for another. There is one law," he said.
The top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, also met with Sotomayor. He said he did not specifically question her about the remark, but discussed judicial philosophy in general.
Sessions called the nominee engaging, and praised her experience. But he said members of the Senate would need time to review the full record of her career, which includes more than 3,000 legal opinions. "I believe the American people want a judge, want Supreme Court justices who understand that they are subordinate to the law, that they are servants of the law, that they are appointed and not anointed, and that they are servants of the people, and that they have a represented a coequal branch that must be faithful in interpreting the Constitution and laws of the public without regard to personal prejudices or ideas or political convictions. That is what objective justice is. That is what we need to inquire about for this nominee," he said.
Senator Sessions suggested that confirmation hearings begin after the August recess. The White House would like Sotomayor confirmed before the month-long break. Chairman Leahy expressed hope that the hearings could begin in July.
If confirmed, Sotomayor would become the first Hispanic justice on the nation's highest court.