WASHINGTON (CNN) - Republican senators on Wednesday made public their strategy for combating the Supreme Court nomination of appellate Judge Sonia Sotomayor, questioning whether she believes the Bill of Rights applies to all Americans.
In particular, a quartet of Republican senators told a news conference that Sotomayor has challenged whether the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental right, which they said contrasts with what the Supreme Court ruled a year ago.
"Judge Sotomayor earlier this year rendered an opinion that held that the Second Amendment was not a fundamental right," noted Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
To Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Sotomayor's opinion amounts to a challenge of whether the Constitution still applies in the United States.
"It's a very important question that goes much beyond the question of bearing arms, but whether or not we still are a constitutional republic," he said.
Invoking the sensitive gun-control issue amounts to a call to the political right to mobilize against Sotomayor's nomination, and was the clearest signal to date that Republicans intend to mount a vigorous campaign against her.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin confirmation hearings on July 13. If approved by the Senate, Sotomayor would be the first Latin-American member of the nation's highest court, and its third female member.
Sotomayor has been meeting individually with senators in recent weeks, despite breaking an ankle shortly after President Barack Obama announced her nomination on May 26.
Republicans, meanwhile, have been poring over her rulings as a federal judge and appellate judge, as well as her speeches, to find issues they can raise during the confirmation hearings.
Almost a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a sweeping handgun ban in Washington, saying it violated Americans' constitutional right to "keep and bear arms."
The 5-4 ruling in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller gave constitutional validation to citizens seeking the right to possess one of the most common types of firearms in their homes.
"Even after the Supreme Court in Heller indicated the Second Amendment protects not only an individual right to keep and bear arms but a pre-existing fundamental right, Judge Sotomayor continued to say that the right to keep and bear arms was not a fundamental right, and did so when it was not necessary to decide the case before her," said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah.
Hatch and Sessions called the news conference fair warning to Sotomayor of what issues will be raised in the confirmation process.
They promised a fair but thorough examination of her record, which they said would differ with past treatment of Republican-nominated judges by minority Democrats.
The issue is one that has polarized judges, politicians and the public for decades: do the Second Amendment's 27 words bestow gun ownership as an individual right or as a collective one, aimed at the civic responsibilities of state militias and therefore subject, perhaps, to strict government regulation?
The amendment states: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."