The opening round of meetings between Supreme Court hopeful Sonia Sotomayor and key Senators went off without a hitch Tuesday, suggesting that the New York appeals court jurist may face a smoother-than-expected ride onto the nations most powerful bench.
In fact, the only area where there was any outward tension in the halls of the Capitol was over the timing of hearings and a vote on her installment to the high court. Republican Senators on Tuesday pushed to have the vetting occur in the fall, while Democrats made clear they were in no mood to draw out the process.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday said he would not wait to hold hearings until September, saying he didnt want Sotomayor to have to wait to respond to her critics. Conservatives have called Sotomayors record into question, taken issue with some of her past statements and even suggested that she is a racist.
With the attacks that have been going on against her, I think it would be irresponsible to leave her out there that long, Leahy said at a press conference following his meeting with Sotomayor. Leahy has ruled out holding Judiciary hearings in June, but he also said that short of an emergency, he would not agree to hold them during the monthlong August recess. That leaves the month of July to bring Sotomayor before his panel.
While Republicans were clearly unhappy with Leahys hard-line approach to the timing of hearings, they did not outwardly attack him, either.
I dont think it would be irresponsible, and I would urge the chairman to keep an open mind on that. ... I dont think its good to rush this, Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said following his own meeting with Sotomayor.
As expected, Sotomayor appearing at ease despite the hundreds of reporters who trailed her for much of the day kept quiet in public aside from trading pleasantries with Senators during tightly controlled photo opportunities. Sotomayor met with 10 Senators on Tuesday, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Senators, for the most part, stuck to their scripts. Democrats used the meetings to laud Sotomayors life story and her record as a lawyer and jurist, while Republicans continued to call for a lengthy review process and cautioned against making any early judgments on her fitness for the Supreme Court.
For instance, prior to his sit-down with Sotomayor, Reid said: Everyone in America, I want them to understand that we have the whole package here. If that wasnt enough, her background is very significant. ... We could not have anyone better qualified.