Leahy Accuses GOP of Racial Politics

Posted July 19, 2009 at 9:39am

Updated: 11:53 a.m.Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Sunday endorsed Supreme Court hopeful Sonia Sotomayor and accused her detractors of engaging in racial politics to try to derail her nomination.Leahy, in a fiery exchange on CNN’s “State of the Union,— charged that Republicans tried to insert race into the debate over Sotomayor’s installment on the high court and said he would hope Senators wouldn’t base their confirmation vote on just one issue.“You had one leader of the Republican Party call her the equivalent of the head of the Ku Klux Klan. Another leader of the Republican Party called her a bigot. To Sen. McConnell’s credit, he has not used those things, but the leadership of the Republican Party came out against her long before we ever had the hearing, long before they had a chance to look at her record,— Leahy said. “I think that’s unfair.—He likened some of the attacks on Sotomayor over her positions on abortion and affiliation to a Puerto Rican civil rights organization to the treatment of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and his affiliation with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.“We’ve got to stop the racial politics,— Leahy charged.But Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), appearing on the same program, quickly interjected, arguing that no leading Senate Republican accused Sotomayor of being a racist. During last week’s confirmation hearings, several GOP Senators questioned Sotomayor’s association with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and the group’s positions on issues such as abortion. “No Republican leader said she was a bigot,— Sessions said. “There’s nothing wrong with us asking her about personal views that she took as a member of any organization. I don’t think that is the wrong thing to do.—“That’s how it came across,— Leahy said. He later clarified that he was referring to remarks by former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), not Senate leaders. Gingrich early in the nomination process accused Sotomayor of being a racist. Sessions said he did his best to ensure Sotomayor received a fair hearing, but “we had to ask the questions.— Sotomayor wrapped up four days of hearings on Thursday evening. Leahy previously said he would like to hold a vote on Tuesday, but on Sunday Sessions said Republicans would, as expected, ask for a one-week delay, pushing the committee’s confirmation vote to July 28. Senate Democrats want to confirm Sotomayor before the chamber breaks for recess on Aug. 7.Sessions also wouldn’t say how he would come down on the nomination, but he sent strong signals that he is leaning against it. “I have a lot of concerns. I made a number of speeches … and there’s been no ambiguity about my concerns,— Sessions said. Leahy predicted a bipartisan vote and said he had already decided how he would vote. He cited her 17-year record on the bench and the 17 hours of Judiciary testimony in which she demonstrated her fitness for the bench. Already three Republicans — none of whom is on Judiciary — have endorsed the nomination: Sens. Dick Lugar (Ind.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Mel Martinez (Fla.).“I find it pretty easy to make up my mind I will vote for her,— Leahy said.Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,— defended his opposition to Sotomayor. The top Senate Republican said that while he’s a “big fan of her career— and life story, he questions whether she would approach cases with impartiality.McConnell said Sotomayor’s personal views, “which she’s expressed quite frequently, lead me to believe she lacks the objectivity that one would prefer for a justice to the Supreme Court.—