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Sotomayor Begins Meeting With Key Lawmakers

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor met with key lawmakers Tuesday to explain her record and make her case for confirmation. The Hotline's Amy Walter offers insight.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor began making her case for confirmation today. She met with Senate leaders to explain her views and to defend some of her statements.

    Judy Woodruff has our lead story report.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Judge Sotomayor's marathon day of meetings kicked off with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He praised President Obama's choice for the high court, saying, "We have the whole package here."

    SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader: We could not have anyone better qualified. And then, of course, I'm somewhat biased. I think that your life story is so compelling, that America identifies with the underdog, and you've been an underdog many times in your life, but always wind up being the top dog. And so I very much appreciate that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    From there, the nominee met with the man who will oversee her confirmation hearings, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

    Afterward, Leahy said he asked about this much-discussed remark by Sotomayor in 2001 at the University of California, Berkeley: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

    Radio host Rush Limbaugh and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have charged those words show that Sotomayor is a racist at the core.

    The president said last week he's sure the judge would have "restated" her sentiment, given the chance. But he dismissed the controversy as "nonsense."

    And Senator Leahy said today he questioned the judge and found her answer "very satisfactory."

    SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), Vermont: What she said was, of course, one's life experience shapes who you are, but ultimately and completely — and she used those words, "ultimately and completely" — as a judge, you follow the law. There's not one law for one race or another; there's not one law for one color or another; there's not one law for rich and a different one for poor. There's only one law.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Leahy also said confirmation hearings should begin sooner rather than later to let Sotomayor answer "vicious attacks."

    But the top Republican on the committee, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, said hearings should wait until September, allowing a full review of Sotomayor's 17 years on the bench. Later, he said his meeting with the judge left him with questions.

    SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), Alabama: We discussed the moral authority of law and judges and the need for the American people to feel that those judgments are based on the law and the facts. And she discussed that forthrightly, I thought, you know, in an effective way.

    And, of course, the question is, what is the law? How does a judge find the law? And what approach to statutory construction do they utilize?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said today he's taking a wait-and-see approach to Sotomayor. He voted against her confirmation as a federal appeals judge.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader: I had some concern that she would be a judicial activist when I opposed her nomination 11 years ago. But that was then, and this is now. I'm willing to look at this nomination afresh and look at all of the cases, as we've been suggesting, and make a judgment after we have all the facts.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    McConnell and other Republicans also heard today from a coalition of more than 145 conservative leaders. In a letter, they urged a filibuster to block any quick vote and instead allow a lengthy debate. They said, in part, "We call on you to lead so that the confirmation vote, when it comes, honestly displays the differences between Republicans and Democrats to the American people."

    President Obama has said he would like the Senate to confirm Sotomayor before taking its month-long August vacation.