Sotomayor takes more questions Thursday

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is on track for an early August confirmation vote, following four days of testimony that won her praise from even some of the Senate Judiciary Committee's more conservative members.

The lead Republican on the panel, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, praised Sotomayor on Thursday for her humor and directness and said he has no plans to block a vote on her nomination in the full Senate, where Democrats hold 60 of 100 seats.

He said he believes the Senate will vote on Sotomayor before its summer recess, scheduled to begin Aug. 7.

Before leaving what at times was literally a hot seat — air conditioning in the hearing room briefly broke down — Sotomayor thanked the senators for extending to her "all the graciousness and the fair hearing I could have asked for."

The Judiciary Committee spent the rest of the day hearing from other witnesses for and against Sotomayor's nomination. Sessions said senators will have more written questions for Sotomayor.

Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he wanted the panel to vote on sending Sotomayor's nomination to the floor Tuesday, but Sessions said Republicans will exercise their right to delay the roll call one week. That puts the Sotomayor nomination on track for a debate and vote in the full Senate the week of Aug. 3.

On the last day of Sotomayor's testimony, some Republicans appeared to be looking for reasons to support the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee, who has won endorsements from both former President Bill Clinton and the former prosecutor whose investigation led to Clinton's impeachment, Pepperdine University law professor Ken Starr.

Sotomayor, 55, was first nominated to the federal bench by former President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, and promoted to the appellate court by Clinton, a Democrat. She is President Obama's first Supreme Court nominee.

"Your judicial record strikes me pretty much in the mainstream," Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who heads his party's senatorial campaign committee, told Sotomayor, a 17-year veteran of the federal bench.

Cornyn and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., did press Sotomayor to reconcile her record with her outside-the-courtroom writings, suggesting that they hint at a more liberal bias than she has shown the committee.

"Some of the things you are saying at these hearings you seem to be saying things that are contradictory if not diametrically opposed to some of the things you've said in speeches around the country," Cornyn said.

"Your record as a judge has not been radical by any means," Graham told Sotomayor, "but your speeches are disturbing, particularly to conservatives."

But Graham noted that Sotomayor has "won the respect of Starr."

Graham also provided Sotomayor with a defense against the criticisms of some conservatives, who have questioned Sotomayor's work on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, an organization that filed briefs in favor of abortion rights and against the death penalty.

Graham reminded Sotomayor and the committee that Chief Justice John Roberts, during his confirmation hearings, told the committee that his role as a judge would be different from the one he took as an advocate for conservative causes in former president Ronald Reagan's administration.

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