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

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

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/05/26/gop.hispanics/art.sotomayor.wh.jpg caption="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. mdm

    No Hillary = No Obama June 2nd, 2009 5:27 pm ET

    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.

    The Supreme Court did not give the election to Bush, they ruled that Gore could not cherry pick the precincts in which he wanted a recount (Dade / Broward, etc)

    Look to the future, not the past...

    June 2, 2009 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  2. 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.
    Democrat's actions = bad
    Republican's actions = vengeance(good)

    Fake TOTUS seems to be stalking me.

    June 2, 2009 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  3. Doug

    Wow, she gave the one nation poem and he is so happy, send them all home asap, this country is cooked.

    June 2, 2009 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  4. Steve

    What else do those stupid ignorant Republicans expect her to follow. The Koran???

    June 2, 2009 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  5. southerncousin

    I guess this is as good a time as any to start. Once you have the top job, but then again, being a liberal appointed by the man who would say anything to get elected, would you also say anything to be appointed and confirmed?

    June 2, 2009 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  6. M

    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."


    Judging by our current judicial system, there is NOT only "one law". Our system of justice is very flawed...the makeup of the bench needs some "change" too!

    June 2, 2009 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  7. Dee, NJ

    Judge Sotomayor, your parents made you and your brother "Star's"! God and Big "O" is on your said!

    June 2, 2009 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  8. Kelby In Houston, TX

    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!

    June 2, 2009 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  9. Straight Facts

    @Bob of Lompoc

    Get your facts straight bud, in regards to the Firemen in New Haven, the tests were thrown out because only the blacks did not pass the test and the city feared a lawsuit from them. The Hispanics and whites filed the lawsuit instead. Next time, listen with both ears, not just one.

    June 2, 2009 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  10. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    @ Steve (the real one)

    Hopefully Nominee Sotomayor knows not to comment on a case that she will more than likely be judging in the future. Good enough answer for ya?

    June 2, 2009 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  11. Republican from Alerbami

    How do you tell if your a redneck?Just believe Rush Limbaugh.

    June 2, 2009 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  12. Biased

    Seriously, would Leahy say anything other than what he did?
    I wonder what his comments about Miguel Estrada were when that hispanic latino was nominated to a lower court and the dems filibustered him until his name was finally withdrawn because leaked memos said they were afraid that he was being groomed for the Supreme Court. Is it that a latino judge is not as good as a latina one or is it because one was a republican and this one a democrat?

    June 2, 2009 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  13. Sniffit

    @ Dutch, who said "I wonder which GOP senator is going to commit political suicide."

    At this point, it's probably more efficient to wonder which one won't.

    June 2, 2009 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  14. I Am The Great and Not-So-Powerful Wizard of Rush

    Oh pity the poor oppressed angry white man.

    Sotomayor may be too conservative.

    Every day I pray that Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito will retire.

    Our court is way too far to the right.

    June 2, 2009 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  15. Steve, Columbia SC

    Whose law will she follow............international law...........UN law, or will she uphold and interpret the Constitution as it is written, not how someone thinks it should mean.

    June 2, 2009 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  16. Leahy is up in the night.

    Leahy said of Sotomayor that she has a "great legal mind". Come on, Leahy! Are you serious?

    What kind of "great legal mind" gets overturned 6 out of 8 times – including an 8-0 decision? ALL 8 justices disagreed with her. On one of the two cases not overturned, the justices agreed with the verdict but said her arguments fly in the face of all reason. If I had managed to get at most 25% of my exam questions correct in grad school, I don't know that anyone would have ever accused me of having a "great mind".

    Umm.....let's put it simply. In any school in this country, being correct 25% of the time is an absolute failure.

    Woman or not, Latina or not....she is not qualified (first and foremost) and she doesn't understand or agree with the constitutionally appointed role of the courts.

    June 2, 2009 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  17. J.P.

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

    Except, of course, if you're a white, male new Haven firefighter. ...you know, except for that part.

    June 2, 2009 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  18. Lori

    Hey, let the 21%ers complain all they want. Poll after poll has shown that the majority of Americans (Independents and Democrats) support Sotomayor, just like they support our President. Let the 21%ers keep on beating a dead horse by saying 'Sotomayor a racist', Obama's a 'socialist', blah, blah, blah. As their tent continues to shrink as much as their intellect has, we'll see Democrat majorities for decades to come.

    June 2, 2009 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  19. Ted

    I know the Republicans have made more out of her 2001 quote than they should have and that is typical of arrogant rich white males. I am a democratic white male, WASP in fact, and I know what she is talking about. Being a WASP, I have not had the impediments of being a minority or a woman or discrimination or cultural bias against me as I have grown up, gone to college and got jobs with excellent benefits and money. It is harder for those of minority cultures to get where I got quite easily. That, in my humble opinion, is what Sotomayor is talking about. But the arrogant white neocon rightwingnuts think totally opposite. The republicans need to come out of the wilderness closer to the center and realize their mistakes. But they need to ditch Cheney, Romney, Rush, Faux News and the rest of the wingnuts first.

    June 2, 2009 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  20. Really!?

    And how many times has her rulings been over turned by the Supreme Court? She has demonstrated a lack of understanding of the law. Plus, she has stated that the court makes policy (not the congress). She has ultimately has no respect for our laws and constitution. He needs to go find another minority women. I am sure their is someone more qualified who still fits his voter demographic needs.

    June 2, 2009 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  21. indiana voter

    @Kelby In Houston, TX

    I think you need to remember the last 8 years better. It was your side that spewed so much hate at Bush about anything and everything. If you are going to lecture people about not spewing hate, you might want to start with your own party first. Of course liberals feel it is okay to trash others but they can't take any criticisms aimed at them, as evidenced by all the wimps on here asking Republicans to not be so hard on them and the current administration.

    June 2, 2009 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  22. petena

    If she can't be a Supreme Court judge, then she should not a be local judge. You guys are just freaking being the party of "NO". Is there anybody that you would approve? I guess a Republican and that my friends is NOT going to happen.

    June 2, 2009 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  23. se

    Can Sotomayor reverse the Bloomberg / MTA fare increse !?

    June 2, 2009 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  24. DaBird

    Sotomayor will get the job but what is with naming Brian Deese to head GM, a guy who just got his graduate degree with NO experience in the auto industry??? Google Brian Deese folks and try to blame this on the Republicans.

    June 2, 2009 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
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