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Roll Call

Sotomayor Hearing Enters Phase Two; Fireworks Kept to a Minimum

Judiciary Committee Senators largely stuck to the standard partisan playbooks during Monday morning’s opening statements on the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, with the GOP offering up modest critiques and Democrats showering her with praise.

While a battle over the nomination was being waged by outside organizations — and on occasion in the hearing room when anti-abortion protesters disrupted the proceedings — the hearing had by early afternoon largely unfolded as expected.

Democrats lauded the nomination. “Judge Sotomayor, I believe, is a warm and intelligent woman. She is well-studied and experienced in the law ... I have studied her record and believe she will be a fine Supreme Court justice and can be a critical voice in returning balance to this great American institution,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said.

Even some Republicans suggested her installment on the high court was all but assured. Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) told Sotomayor that “unless you have a major meltdown, you are going to be confirmed.” Graham, a conservative, gave a relatively tame opening statement, offering up some mild concern over her previous public statements.

To be sure, there were some partisan fireworks. Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) took a particularly harsh line of attack, repeatedly criticizing Sotomayor’s public statements, work with a Puerto Rican civil rights organization and some of her rulings.

Democrats and the White House, meanwhile, were largely sticking to their strategy of stressing Sotomayor’s experience and arguing that she should be held to the same standard as Chief Justice John Roberts. Roberts was appointed by George W. Bush and confirmed on a strong bipartisan vote in 2005.

In talking points circulated to Senate Democrats, the White House argues that Sotomayor’s record is “public” and that she “is an exceptionally qualified nominee, with more than 17 years of experience on the federal bench, including six years as a trial judge. Her nomination has received support from Democrats, Republicans, law enforcement groups and civil rights organizations.”

The talking points also stressed Sotomayor’s “judicial restraint” in her rulings and seek to bolster recent arguments that her ruling in an affirmative action case represents moderation since she was keeping in line with precedent.

The push by her allies to paint Sotomayor as a moderate jurist was an effort to counter what they expected from the GOP Senators on the panel.

Sessions, for instance, used his opening statement — typically the one relatively civil part of any confirmation hearing — to launch a series of harsh attacks. His statement was rife with references to issues such as abortion, race, property rights, gun rights and the specter of a global governance system.

Republicans are expected to ramp up a rapid response operation this afternoon. According to GOP aides, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) is expected to focus the Conference’s messaging efforts on the Sotomayor hearings throughout the week and will send out counter statements in an instant response e-mail system during her opening statement and any answers she gives to questions.

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