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Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor today begins the time-honored practice of visiting with each Senator prior to the start of confirmation hearings, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) first in line.
But while these visits may seem like little more than courtesy calls, they will in fact play a central role in the fate of Sotomayors nomination, if history is any guide.
Take the case of Harriet Miers, the much-maligned friend of President George W. Bush who saw her nomination to the Supreme Court yanked before her hearings could even get started in 2005.
Republicans and Democrats alike credited her collapse to a poor performance in her meetings with Senators the lawmakers didnt feel she had the intellectual weight or experience to merit a lifetime appointment to the high court. That, coupled with an aggressive Internet campaign by liberal and conservative opponents, quickly brought the nomination down.
Conversely, Chief Justice John Roberts was a hit with lawmakers when he made the rounds in 2005 particularly with Leahy, who was then the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee.
Despite his staunchly conservative views, Democrats largely saw Roberts as a highly qualified jurist, and when Leahy ultimately threw his weight behind the nomination, Roberts won confirmation by a wide, bipartisan margin.
Opponents also spent the weeks prior to the Roberts confirmation hearings fruitlessly digging for a smoking gun.
Republicans head into the next few weeks facing similar pressure. According to GOP aides, Republican staff on the Judiciary Committee will use the next several weeks to continue poring through the thousands of cases that Sotomayor has been involved in over the years, her law review articles and her public statements.
Republicans hope to use a case-by-case, opinion-by-opinion review to come up with a thoughtful critique of this womans career, a senior GOP aide said. And while Republicans harbor no illusions that they can block the nomination short of a major scandal, they do view the process as a teachable moment to lay out their differences with Democrats over the judiciary, the aide said.
As part of that, Republicans this week will kick off their messaging efforts on the confirmation process in earnest, with an emphasis on the need for a long, exhaustive review of her record while building on their concerns that she will not be a strict constructionist while on the court.
In a Senate floor speech Monday, McConnell unveiled Republicans arguments, saying that while the GOP will treat Sotomayor fairly, respectful doesnt mean rushed. Judge Sotomayor has a long record, and it will take a long time to get through it. Shes served 17 years on both the trial and the appellate court. Shes been involved in more than 3,600 cases since becoming a judge. In order to conduct a thorough examination of all these cases, its vital that the Senate have sufficient time to do so.