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. Dan Cole

    We need people who have moved beyond race. I believe that Sonia Sotomayer is too caught up in race behind closed doors. Lets find someone who has ALWAYS seen people as people, and not someone who obviously has issues around her and other people's race.

    June 2, 2009 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  2. Jean

    Governor Palin Statement on William Long

    "The stories of two very different lives with similar fates crossed through the media's hands yesterday – both equally important but one lacked the proper attention. The death of 67-year old George Tiller was unacceptable, but equally disgusting was another death that police believe was politically and religiously motivated as well.

    William Long died yesterday. The 23-year old Army Recruiter was gunned down by a fanatic; another fellow soldier was wounded in the ambush. The soldiers had just completed their basic training and were talking to potential recruits, just as my son, Track, once did.

    Whatever titles we give these murderers, both deserve our attention. Violence like that is no way to solve a political dispute nor a religious one. And the fanatics on all sides do great disservice when they confuse dissention with rage and death."

    Governor Sarah Palin

    June 2, 2009 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  3. Nunya

    Steve (the real one): "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??"

    I would want a test that truly tested knowledge and ability rather than being biased toward any ethnicity or gender...

    June 2, 2009 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  4. fools, fooled by obama

    like anyone would believe anything Leaky Leahy would say.

    June 2, 2009 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  5. Jim

    Just like other Obama nominees...do one thing before nomination...don't pay taxes...talk racism, make law from the bench, then retract. It's what one does when no one is watching that defines a persons character. They have the same character as their nominator. Lying to America!

    June 2, 2009 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  6. S Callahan

    I don't think it will matter to Sotomayor if your a Dem or Repub when it comes to law....she will discern it well....she is a good choice....she has earned her respect the hard way. She has a discerning spirit and will do what is right. Give her the chance.

    June 2, 2009 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  7. malclave

    Wow... some of these typical liberal hate posts are so disturbing.

    Do you really believe what you're writing? Have you ever, even once, tried to think for yourself instead of just repeating whatever is being chanted at you?

    June 2, 2009 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  8. No To Obama

    Believing this is like believing that she isnt a racist towards the white race by her remarks

    June 2, 2009 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  9. donnie brasco

    I would hope 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.
    I would hope that a wise Black man with the richness of his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina female who hasn't lived that life. (Clarence Thomas)
    I would hope that a wise White man with the richness of his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina female who hasn't lived that life. (Antonin Scalia)


    June 2, 2009 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  10. jeff

    lets see if cnn will post here cnn is the worst when it comes to telling the truth and only prints pro obama comments but its only because she is a minority he picked her

    June 2, 2009 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  11. HB

    I wonder how many people on here even know how the Supreme Court works.

    June 2, 2009 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  12. JT

    Kelby in Houston – I'm with you all the way. The wingnuts comments are alarmingly ignorant and biased towards heavy bigotry. It's like some people are still living in an insulated, exclusive bubble that looks ridiculously like many decades ago when the world ran on hat e.

    June 2, 2009 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  13. Mari( maybe one of my comments will be posted)

    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."

    Folks this is what the GOP's busting their gut over! I am a racist, and the rest of YOU supporting Judge Sotomayor are racists also! That is what the GOP is saying!

    My experience as a refugee has taught me tolerance,compassion, strengthened my faith in God. Made me empathetic, and stronger as an adult. And yeah......as Sotomayor says " ... would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white man who hasn't lived that life."

    Our personal experiences define and form us. Just because she has had the experience of being a minority woman in a white man's world does not make her a racist......... but more profoundly compassionate to the plight of those who do not have equal rights.

    I believe that Jesus would agree with her 100%, since Jesus was the Champion of the poor, the sick, the ones society rejected!

    June 2, 2009 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  14. Mari( maybe one of my comments will be posted)

    @ Steve (the real one).......... Hmmm. We are a diverse nation,Steve, to discriminate on the basis of color or gender is against the law.

    Any way, as usually happens the Supreme Court will be reviewing the ruling.

    For 100's of years, white people have discriminated against people of color, thus the Civil Right laws were enacted.

    Since you are a conservative I assume you are a Christian, have you read the Gospels, sir? Jesus said, "whatsoever you do to the least of these you have done unto me....."

    June 2, 2009 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  15. Cali J

    Didn't Bush win a second election without the SC?
    Why do Libs keep running back to 2000 and saying "Bush stole the election?"
    Let's go over the facts. Uh-Oh, I said facts. That means the Libs or Gore don't want to debate anymore.
    This is like the Israeli / Palestinian War. It will never end.
    Just so you know, I am a Republican and a Christian and I'm White. That makes me the most persecuted species in this country. I don't hate anyone including Gays or and other minority segment of our culture. I wouldn't kill anyone over beliefs, nor would I wish anyone to have less rights than me. So you Libs please stop blaming me for all of this countries ills. I am now jobless and because I worked for myself, I can't get unemployment even though I've paid into it so you can, for over 35 years. May I exist now?

    June 2, 2009 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  16. not me

    Why has she been overturned 60% of the time?????

    June 2, 2009 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  17. JLW in Ala.

    Did the SC follow the law when they stopped the recount of the votes in Fla. in the 2000 election?? Of course not !! This was a Fla. election and they actually had no business involved. The Fla. SC is the ultimate authority in Fla. elections

    June 2, 2009 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  18. Henry Miller, Cary, NC

    But apparently, so Sotomayor thinks, there ought to be one law for white firefighters and a different law for black firefighters.

    June 2, 2009 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  19. Conservative

    If she is just going to follow the law than how is she a better judge because she is a wise latina woman as compared to a white man? I hope the republicans have the guts to call her out on this. Ultimately, I think they will vote her through, but she should be forced to either say she was wrong or say why she believes those past experiences make her a better judge is she is going to be deciding based on the law. I think its the republcians duty as the minority here to not just sing her praises as the democrats will do and as the republicans did with Bush's nominations. Some republicans will vote against her, but that's part of it. Obama voted against Roberts even though he admitted he was very qualified for the job. That's just part of it, she isn't going to be voted on based solely on her credentials, just the same as the justices before her.

    June 2, 2009 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  20. not me

    To Kelby In Houston, TX

    I too am from Texas.

    YOU complain about right wing nut jobs????

    The LEFT has been pathetic and filled with HATE for years.

    Bashing our troops and lying about them.

    Calling President Bush EVERY name in the book.

    With Obama in charge, you will not recognize this country in 4 years.;

    June 2, 2009 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  21. Henry Miller, Cary, NC

    "There's not one law for rich, a different one for poor. "

    Oh really? Then why do the rich pay 90% or more of all the personal Federal income tax collected and the poor pay nothing or close to it? Looks like legalised economic discrimination to me.

    June 2, 2009 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  22. Get Your Facts Straight

    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 ?

    Hey, Bob, perhaps you should read the case. One of the plaintiffs in the case is, in fact, Hispanic as he and another Hispanic would possibly have been promoted had the test not been thrown out. And, perhaps you should put yourself in the place of the man who paid out $1000 for study materials and to have someone read them on tape as, due to dyslexia, that was the way he was able to best prepare for the test–spending 8-10 hours a day studying. Yes, I'd say it was really fair to him, not only to toss out that test, but for the Circuit Panel which included Judge Sotomayor to affirm the District Court in a one paragraph opinion that said absolutely nothing...

    June 2, 2009 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  23. John-Black Hills/SD

    Sotomayor is going to find herself as the dominant Justice after she settles in. We need fresh minds on the Supreme Court, Americans deserve to have Justices who have lived with us mere mortals in the rough, uneven landscape called America.

    June 2, 2009 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  24. Get Real!!

    She will say everything that congress wants to hear. Then, when she is sworn in , she will have her own agenda and do whatever she wants.

    June 2, 2009 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  25. Mark,B'ham,Al.

    If she is confirmed, which I feel she will be because of the numbers, racist comments like hers can never be used against another potential candidate, nominee, or appointment again or the democrats will be hypocriits as usual.

    June 2, 2009 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
1 2 3 4