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All Eyes Focus On Sotomayor

Senate Hearings Begin Today

The Senate Judiciary Committee begins hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor today, but with her installment all but certain, Republicans are unlikely to put the nominee on trial.

Rather, GOP Senators will use the high-profile forum to make a case for the direction of the judiciary and to set out their definition of an ideal jurist.

For weeks, Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and a handful of other Republicans have picked apart Sotomayor’s record as a lawyer, civil rights activist and judge. Sotomayor currently serves on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and, if confirmed, would serve as the high court’s first Latina justice.

Senate Republicans have gotten little traction trying to derail her installment, but not for a lack of trying. GOP Senators have gone to the floor and to the media to criticize Sotomayor’s views on gun rights, affirmative action and the death penalty, among other things.

In each of those areas, Republicans have outlined specific concerns: On gun rights, for instance, they have criticized Sotomayor for having an overly narrow interpretation of the Second Amendment, while her views on civil rights law have been seen as overly broad.

Democrats have tried to blunt those attacks and will continue to do so throughout this week’s Judiciary hearings. As they employ a rapid-response-style messaging strategy to counter any GOP criticisms, Sotomayor herself will carefully avoid language that would incite her opposition.

Democrats, in particular, plan to highlight what they view as Sotomayor’s moderate approach to the law and will likely continue to emphasize her strong support from law enforcement organizations. Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (Vt.) and other panel Democrats have made it a point to tout the backing she has received.

“Judge Sotomayor’s criminal justice record proves that she is a moderate judge, whose decisions in criminal cases rarely differ from those of her colleagues on the federal bench,” Leahy said last week during a meeting with top law enforcement officials.

Additionally, while most of the Democrats’ focus leading up to the hearings had been on Sotomayor’s law-and-order record, women’s organizations and other traditionally Democratic interest groups weighed in recently. Ultimately, Democrats have said they feel fairly confident going into today’s hearings and believe the onus will be on Republicans to make the case for why she should not be approved.

“Judge Sotomayor has a very distinguished and very moderate record. The Republican arguments just can’t hold up against it. If they make their claims more than once, they will come across as bullies,” one Democrat close to the White House said.

Meanwhile, Republicans plan to parse every word, just as they have over the past several weeks since President Barack Obama announced his first pick for the high court.

GOP lawmakers have sought to tie several seemingly isolated issues together with the thread of “empathy” — arguing that in each instance Sotomayor has tried to use the law to pursue an agenda, rather than simply interpret the law as written.

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