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Sotomayor Senate Hearings Begin July 13

Senate confirmation hearings will begin July 13th for President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor. She must be confirmed by a vote of the full Senate before she can take the place of retiring Justice David Souter. Meanwhile, a longtime Washington insider with experience in confirmation battles has some advice for Judge Sotomayor and the White House.

The announcement that the Sotomayor hearings would begin in mid-July was made by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

"She deserves a fair hearing, not trial by attack and assaults upon her character," said Senator Leahy. "And let us proceed to give her that fair hearing without unnecessary delay."

If confirmed, Sotomayor would be the country's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and would become the second woman justice on the current nine-member court, and only the third woman to serve on the high court in history.

Republicans have promised thorough but fair questioning during the confirmation hearings and are expected to press Judge Sotomayor about her legal and political views.

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions is the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee and spoke recently with NBC television.

"And then to determine whether she will be faithful to the law or whether she will allow her personal and political views to influence her decision making," said Senator Sessions.

Sotomayor has continued to meet with senators in Washington despite being hobbled by a broken ankle after a stumble at a New York City airport.

In the meantime, a longtime Washington insider who has assisted in hundreds of presidential confirmations before the Senate is offering some non-partisan advice for Sotomayor.

Former U.S. Ambassador Tom Korologos has served several Republican presidents and helped out with Supreme Court nominations in the administrations of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Korologos says confirmation battles in the Senate are often politically contentious because they are among the most important and lasting decisions a president can make.

"This is the biggest single big deal appointment that he has," said Tom Korologos. "And they must win. Boy, if they don't win those things, they've got problems."

Korologos also says that senators pay particular attention to Supreme Court appointments.

"Because it is a lifetime appointment, it [Senate] is a co-equal branch, it is a powerful position and, for most senators, they will tell you it is the most important vote that they will cast as a senator," he said.

Korologos describes himself as a partisan Republican and served as Ambassador to Belgium for former President George W. Bush.

But having gone through numerous confirmation hearings, Korologos offered some non-partisan political advice to Judge Sotomayor as she prepares for her upcoming hearings.

"She must be inspiring and lofty and at the same time say nothing at all," said Korologos.

Korologos says that will be a challenge when Sotomayor is questioned by Republicans about her judicial philosophy and political leanings.

"The one thing that the nominee has to be careful of is that this person is going to be a judge, a person who is going to judge issues," he said. "He or she cannot give away what she is going to rule on. She has to be very careful and not telegraph how she is going to rule, more than any other judge can."

Republicans are promising a tough but fair review of Sotomayor's record, but Korologos says senators from the opposition party need to proceed with a measure of caution in their questioning during the televised hearings.

"They have to be careful of becoming anti-Hispanic, anti-women," he said. "They have got to be very careful and talk about her record."

That view is shared by Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University. Rosen spoke on VOA's Encounter program.

"Her personal story is so compelling, her qualifications on paper are so strong, and the lack of desire to antagonize the important Latino constituency will make Republicans as well as Democrats hesitant to attack her," said Jeffrey Rosen.

President Obama wants Sotomayor confirmed to the high court in time for the beginning of the Supreme Court's next term in October.