WASHINGTON (CNN) – Judge Sonia Sotomayor addressed the controversial issue of raceand gender in her judicial philosophy Tuesday by promising to apply the law "ultimately and completely" regardless of circumstance, according to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy.
Sotomayor commented on the issue, Leahy said, in a private meeting with him while making the rounds with several key senators on Capitol Hill.
Some of Sotomayor's critics have raised the matter by highlighting a 2001 speech she gave in which she said that a "wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."
Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said Sotomayor told him that "of course one's life experience shapes who you are, but 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 rich, a different one for poor. There's only one law."
Leahy praised Sotomayor's experience, asserted that she has a "great legal mind" similar to that of retiring Justice David Souter, and ripped Sotomayor's critics for launching "the most vicious (attacks) I've ever seen."
He specifically seized on remarks by Rush Limbaugh and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich calling Sotomayor a "racist," as well as former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo's assertion that her association with the Hispanic group La Raza is the equivalent of a membership in the Ku Klux Klan.
Leahy said that the Judiciary Committee's hearings would not begin until after June, but "with the attacks that have been going on against her, I believe it'd be irresponsible to leave her hanging out there."
Sotomayor began her day meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. Reid praised her academic and judicial background, as well as her "compelling" life story.
Reid's sit-down was largely a "get-to-know-you" session in which he talked about Sotomayor's humble Bronx, New York, roots and path to success, according to two Democratic sources familiar with the meeting.
He largely avoided questions about her positions and approach to the bench, knowing she will get those questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, one of the sources added.
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, promised after meeting with Sotomayor that she would get a "fair hearing."
"I'd like people to say this is the best hearing we've ever had," he said.
Sessions said that while he didn't directly bring up her controversial Latina remarks, he did discuss the "idea and concept of personal feelings (and) how that influences a decision."
He also urged Leahy to keep an "open mind" on a timetable for Sotomayor's confirmation calendar, arguing in favor of hearings in September.
Reid also was non-committal when asked about a timetable, saying only that "we're going to do this as quickly as we can (but) won't set any arbitrary deadlines."
President Barack Obama has called for his nominee to be confirmed before the start of the next Supreme Court term in October.
Sotomayor was also expected to spend part of her day on Capitol Hill meeting with her home-state senators, New York's Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Her afternoon schedule included meetings with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky; and Sessions.
She was additionally slated to sit down with Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois; Dianne Feinstein, D-California; Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; and Jon Kyl, R-Arizona.
"The court is always supposed to apply the law" but never legislate, Kyl told a group of reporters earlier in the day.
"And so, I think what this could boil down to - and we'll have to examine very carefully all of the evidence - is what this judge's view of judging is," he said.
A Supreme Court nominee's initial meetings on Capitol Hill, while often a mere formality, can occasionally prove to be pivotal.
Most recently, Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts' Senate meetings went smoothly. President George W. Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers, however, was pulled after after senators in both parties emerged from private sessions calling her unqualified.
Most of Sotomayor's critics concede that she is qualified, though they are still expected to use their meetings to ask a number of pointed questions.
GOP leaders have specifically focused on Sotomayor's appellate court decision against a mostly white group of firefighters who say they were discriminated against after a promotion test was thrown out because, according to critics, it discriminated against minority firefighters.
The Supreme Court is set to rule on an appeal of Sotomayor's decision by the end of its current term in June.
"She's going to have to convince me that if I found myself in court against someone she had a lot of empathy for, that I'd get a fair shake," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina.
"If she can't, I won't vote for her." Republicans, however, have their own political worries. CNN political analyst David Gergen said they risk putting themselves on
trial in front of Latino-Americans.
"If they line up uniformly in hostility against the first Hispanic woman to the court, they risk paying a terrible price with the biggest and fastest-growing minority in this country," Gergen said.
Despite what seems at the moment like a nomination on a fast track, Republicans are still demanding ample time to read Sotomayor's thousands of rulings before public hearings begin.
–CNN's Jim Acosta and Dana Bash contributed to this report
If this is the best judge they could find I'd hate to see the ones they passed on.
It just seems that Roe v Wade would go differently with this judge if it were Roe v Garcia.
Are you sure there is no one else more qualified? Even if it's a man? Heaven forbid... a white man....No?
Doesn't seem right to pick someone based on gender and race.
I think the GOP were digging for stuff to get on her but they failed to come up with anything except for the not so tactfull comment she made that they are trying to make all of this noise about.
I didn't like the comment coming from a person who is set to sit on top of the justice system, but in context that shouldn't keep a person who is clearly a great fit and clearly smart enough to hold her own in the position away from the job.
If she wants a positive image, she should find someone who has not been so divisive to promote her. Leahy is one of the worst the left has, surely they can find someone who actually talks to both sides. Both the far left and the far right seem to just know how to split people, and do not know how to unite. Am I for Sonia, probably not, but to assume that she will "bork" herself is probably just wishful thinking. However, every nominee that I have been able to witness part of the hearings, has been pretty much off point. Questions that have absolutely nothing to do with past rulings, the law or anything else germane. That kind of questioning can get the nominee flustered, and pretty much anyone could say things that hadn't prepared for.
She is a brilliant choice and will be confirmed.......Republicans will make their last stand by delaying the Hearings until September, but by then Franken will be Seated and They will still be floundering.....
Manuel Miranda is probably perceived by Hispanics the way Michael Steele is probably perceived by most African Americans.....Thorn in the flesh - Crab in the Barrel - Good Ol' Boy Acceptance Seeker.......
The Republicans for all intents and purposes should just smile politely and ask softball questions because they can't stop this confirmation. The simple fact is we are going to have an activist affirmative action judge on the Supreme Court bench for the rest of her life and all we can do is bend over and take it. We as a nation voted in this President and this Democratic Congress so they can put in to office anyone they want,no matter how horrible a candidate they may be, not to mention can spend this country into oblivion and there is nothing we can do to stop them. For 2 more years anyway.
A Leahy guarentee is totally worthless! He is a party hack that has absolutely no credibility!
Kelby In Houston, TX June 2nd, 2009 5:59 pm ET
I am so glad we have the majority. I am so glad that the political landscape has shifted a way from Conservitive wing nuts. I read these angry ignorant posts from the right and breathe a sigh of relief. When thing get better in this country…won't you join us? Will you stop the hate? We love all ya'll and we accept competing ideas in order to get better policy. JOIN US!
Are you closing your eyes when reading angry and ignorant posts from your liberal buddies? Are you blind to the ignorance and anger from the left?
I know I will sleep better now that the nominee has met with leahy..chucky schummer..feinstein..what next??..lunch with barney fudd frank??..so he can explain how he and chris dudd destroyed the banking industry??
Leahy.., isn't he the clown that attackes while on the record and then wants to kiss and make up off the record??