U.S. Senate confirmation hearings have begun for Supreme Court nominee
Sonia Sotomayor, who, if confirmed, would be the first Hispanic and the
third woman to sit on the nation's highest court.
Democrat Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, lauded Sotomayor's achievements and judicial record. He called for a fair hearing and for her record not to be distorted.
Ranking Republican Jeff Sessions expressed concern about President Barack Obama wanting a justice who can empathize with the concerns and struggles of everyday people. He said he will not vote for someone who, instead of being impartial, allows their personal background, prejudice or sympathies to sway their decisions.
Republicans say they want her to explain some of her public comments and rulings about race-related issues, including a comment that a "wise Latina" would make better legal decisions than a white male without the same life experience.
Senator Sessions said he is troubled by some of Sotomayor's rulings, including one on discrimination that was recently reversed by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ruled that a U.S. city discriminated against a mostly white group of firefighters who were denied promotions. In doing so, the Supreme Court overturned a ruling Sotomayor endorsed as an appeals court judge.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president called the nominee Sunday and expressed his confidence that Sotomayor, a federal appeals court judge, would be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, which is a lifetime appointment.
Since Democrats control 60 of the 100 seats in the full Senate, most experts believe Sotomayor will be confirmed in time for the Supreme Court's next term in October. Sotomayor, a 55-year-old New York native, would replace recently retired Justice David Souter.