Sessions Readies for Sotomayor Hearings

Posted June 16, 2009 at 6:35pm

Senate Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is expected to give the first in a series of floor speeches today outlining the GOP’s vision for the judiciary and the kind of judges his party believes are qualified for the Supreme Court, committee sources said.

Sessions’ speeches, which will also appear as opinion pieces this week in the Washington Times, come as Republicans begin combing through a new round of documents and other information related to Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Republicans are particularly interested in Sotomayor’s work for a Puerto Rican civil rights group and on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Although Sessions’ floor speeches — expected to number four or five — are not specifically directed to Sotomayor’s nomination, the Alabama Republican hopes they will start a “national dialogue— on the role of the judiciary while setting the stage for her confirmation hearings next month, one Judiciary Republican said Tuesday.

“These speeches will address the fundamental issues that will be in play during the confirmation process … [and] make the case for judicial restraint versus judicial activism,— the committee source said.

According to Republicans, Sessions’ first floor address will focus on what he views as the foundation of a strong judiciary and judicial restraint, while his later speeches will focus on President Barack Obama’s call for installing judges with empathy and other issues.

Sessions decided to give the speeches in part to offer a clearer definition and understanding of terms like “activist judge,— “judicial restraint— and “empathy standard,— terms often used by outside activists but not necessarily understood by the broader public. If Republicans are to mount an effective opposition to Sotomayor’s nomination or even press her on those issues during the hearings, Sessions believes it is imperative to provide context to the public before the process gets under way.

Although GOP aides on the committee continue to comb through Sotomayor’s record looking for issues, Republicans acknowledge that at this point they lack a smoking gun that would derail her installation. Sotomayor late Monday turned over a second batch of documents to the committee in response to GOP complaints that her initial answers to the committee’s written questionnaire were incomplete.

One Republican aide familiar with the party’s review said the process is similar to how Democrats handled the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005 and that GOP Senators will likely ask for even more information from Sotomayor in the weeks leading up to her confirmation hearings, set for July 13.

In her latest response, Sotomayor defended her involvement in the Belizean Grove, an organization for professional women. Although federal judges are technically barred from participating in any group that discriminates on the basis of gender — no men belong to the organization — in the past the Senate has not viewed professional organizations for women as falling into that category. Both former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and current Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg have belonged to women’s organizations, for instance.

Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday said he remains hopeful that Sotomayor’s hearings will not devolve into a partisan brawl and that Republicans would not look to trip them up, potentially through a boycott of the hearings.

“I would hope not. We’re setting her schedule roughly the same as Justice Roberts’,— Leahy said, adding that he believes Republicans will participate in the hearings despite their protests about not having enough time to prepare.

“The American people look at us and say, Jeez, I wish I got paid as much as they do’ … so to not show up for work would look pretty silly, [and] I don’t think they’ll do that,— he said.