June 2nd, 2009
04:46 PM ET
6 years ago

Sotomayor to follow law 'ultimately and completely,' Leahy says

Judge Sonia Sotomayor addressed the controversial issue of raceand gender in her judicial philosophy Tuesday.
Judge Sonia Sotomayor addressed the controversial issue of raceand gender in her judicial philosophy Tuesday.

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


Filed under: Sonia Sotomayor • Supreme Court
soundoff (85 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Step one is done, now bring on the big dogs. I wonder which GOP senator is going to commit political suicide.

    June 2, 2009 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  2. phoenix86

    Yea, coming from Pat Leahy we should all sleep better. Leahy's certifiable.

    June 2, 2009 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  3. Brian G, Sugar Land, TX

    I think sshe hould be allowed to follow the law to the exact same standards that previous Justices have. :-)

    Kinda scary, heh?

    June 2, 2009 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  4. Bob of Lompoc

    About the New Haven Fireman case: Not a single female, Black or Hispanic passed the test, but all the white guys did. Hmmmm. They get an up front look at the test – ya think ?

    June 2, 2009 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  5. ib

    Obama said he was a moderate to which has also turned out to be one big lie. Both are far left wingnuts and it will show in time on her.

    June 2, 2009 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  6. Just My Opinion in Texas

    Bob of Lompoc ... How about the people who passed the test studied the material better than those who didn't? Before you accuse someone of cheating ... maybe you ought to check your facts first.

    As for assertions from Leahy ... oh yeah ... NOW I'm convinced she'll be impartial.

    And if you believe that I have a nice ocean front condo for sale in El Paso!

    June 2, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  7. RNC = DNC = politics as usual

    @ib "Obama said he was a moderate"

    Actually waaaaaay back at the beginning he claimed to be able to change the way politics in WashDC works totally. All of it: Change all the Dem and Repub ways!

    Now that he has backpeddled severely, he is just moderate and in line with most DNC policy – that he was going to change.

    THAT is the Big Lie.

    As a progressive (not a Repub at all), I resent being lied to!

    June 2, 2009 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  8. Teleprompter of the U.S.A.

    Suuuuure she will. And Bill did not have sex with that woman!

    June 2, 2009 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  9. Joe

    Most vicious attacks he has ever seen? He apparently has not seen the Bush, Cheney, and McCain bashers in the comments at CNN.com. They will start on this article within the hour.

    June 2, 2009 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  10. Luke Brown

    Sotomayer is in.

    Hey GOP, call for an early vote.

    Everyday this debate goes on and this lady judge is in front of the cameras, you lose a little ground. Everyday Rush and Newt are out there calling her a racist, you lose even more.

    June 2, 2009 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  11. Johnny DC

    Nice backtracking.

    Unfortunately, the judicial system lends itself to "backtracking" via the appeals process, and you are now going to sit atop that chain. There's nobody left to bail you out when you "make laws", or rule with a racist passion... you are going to be the last stop on that train for decades. Color me relieved [not at all].

    June 2, 2009 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  12. Teleprompter of the U.S.A.

    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."
    -------------------------------–

    Bwhahahahaha!!!! Is this clown serious? What she is experiencing is not close to what the Democrats did to Thomas, Alito, Roberts, and any number of others Bush nominated.

    The Democrats were digging into Roberts' childrens' adoption papers. What a joke Leahy is.

    June 2, 2009 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  13. Tom Paine

    This from the guy who attacks EVERY Republican judicial nominee? Leahy is a dangerous hack.

    June 2, 2009 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  14. Chris

    Treating all people the same regardless of race is not the answer. What we need are judges that treat all taxpayers better by NOT taking their hard earned money and giving it to some poor person, regardless of their race. Working, taxpaying legal citizens of this country are getting taken for a ride by everyone and it's time for judges, politicians, and crooks in general to stop that particular practice.

    June 2, 2009 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  15. Teleprompter of the U.S.A.

    Everyday this debate goes on and this lady judge is in front of the cameras, you lose a little ground. Everyday Rush and Newt are out there calling her a racist, you lose even more.
    -------------------------------–

    That goes completely against what happened after the Democrats viciously and unprecedentedly attack the people I have already listed.

    June 2, 2009 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  16. keep to the issue

    What does it take-our constitution and judicial system
    must have noooooo-person that is talking of racial division and
    making comments like she has.
    If this does not stir the feeling of the American citizen-then we are
    doomed and should take to the streets.

    June 2, 2009 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  17. malclave

    Gee. Leahy, a Democrat, says she'll follow the law?

    Is that supposed to mean anything?

    "A wise white man, with the richness of his experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina [or other Democrat-recognized victim group] who hasn't lived that life."

    What are the chances that a white man who said this would be confirmed by the Senate?

    Anyone who says that the Democrats wouldn't be screaming "racism" is either stupid or a liar.

    June 2, 2009 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  18. No Hillary = No Obama

    What is all the fuss about? Isn't this the same Supreme Court that played politics by giving the election to Bush? That was pure bias politics. The Supreme Court is really not all that supreme.

    June 2, 2009 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  19. Jonathan

    She believes that "Wise Latina Women" are inherently better judges than whites. If that isn't racist, the word has no meaning.

    June 2, 2009 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  20. Steve (the real one)

    Dutch/Bad Newz, VA June 2nd, 2009 4:48 pm ET
    Step one is done, now bring on the big dogs. I wonder which GOP senator is going to commit political suicide.
    -----------------
    Hopefully no one! We have a liberal replacing a liberal! No gain, no loss. My question to you , Dutch is how you feelin' about her silence on abortion? Little nervous?

    June 2, 2009 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  21. Ask not what big business can do for you but what can you do for big business

    What is her position on illegal immigration? If its lets have an open border with Mexico then she should not be confirmed.

    June 2, 2009 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  22. Steve (the real one)

    Bob of Lompoc June 2nd, 2009 4:51 pm ET
    About the New Haven Fireman case: Not a single female, Black or Hispanic passed the test, but all the white guys did. Hmmmm. They get an up front look at the test – ya think ?
    -----------------
    Actually NO! Why do you just happen to think that? Anyway, if these guys were your potential doctors rather than firemen, exactly just who would YOU promote and would want to operate on YOU??

    June 2, 2009 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  23. Teleprompter of the U.S.A.

    What is all the fuss about? Isn't this the same Supreme Court that played politics by giving the election to Bush? That was pure bias politics. The Supreme Court is really not all that supreme.
    -------------------------------–

    In 8 years the SC didn't side with Bush on anything but yet they gave the Presidency to Bush in 2000....riggggghhhhhhtttttttttt......

    Get over it, he won fair and square.

    June 2, 2009 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  24. donttreadonme

    The laws that she “creates” or interprets per the Constitution?

    June 2, 2009 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  25. Teleprompter of the U.S.A.

    I'm also a joke as well, because I justify the Republicans being right by saying they are doing the same thing that the Democrats did wrong.

    So:

    Democrat's actions = bad

    Republican's actions = vengeance(good)

    June 2, 2009 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
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