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.

Though he said some of Sotomayor's speeches " bug the heck out of me," Graham said he believes she's never let her opinions affect her judging and reiterated his prediction that she's headed for confirmation.

"We'll see what your future is going to be. I think it's going to be pretty bright," Graham told the judge.

Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoman who is one of the Republican party's most conservative members, did not rule out voting for Sotomayor.

"I have yet to decide where I'm going on this," he told the judge.

Coburn said he is "deeply troubled" by some of her speeches but expressed admiration for her life story and her testimony. "I am mightily impressed," he said.

Democrats continued to emphasize Sotomayor's record as a tough law and order prosecutor and judge.

Under questioning by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Sotomayor described a conviction she obtained in a "very complex" case against two men who were distributing kiddie porn films as a prosecutor and a conviction she upheld against a former Connecticut mayor in accused of sexually abusing two young relatives.

Witnesses appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday afternoon to discuss her nomination.

Frank Ricci, a white Connecticut firefighter whose reverse-discrimination case prompted the Supreme Court last month to overturn one of Sotomayor's decisions, said "I studied harder than I ever had before. Reading, making flash cards, highlighting and reading again all while listening to prepared tapes. I went before numerous panels to prepare for the oral assessment. I was a virtual absentee father and husband for months because of it."

Ricci was denied a promotion when city officials scrapped an exam, concluding that too few minorities had qualified. His challenge was rejected by Sotomayor and two other appeals court judges in a brief order before the Supreme Court overturned the decision.

Benjamin Vargas, who scored high enough for promotion and also joined with the white firefighters who challenged the New Haven action discarding of the test results, said "I am a Hispanic, and proud of the heritage and background that Judge Sotomayor and I share, and I congratulate Judge Sotomayor."

Yet he stressed how he had scored high enough to earn a promotion to captain and was denied it because of the city's action. "We did not ask for sympathy or empathy. We asked only for even-handed enforcement of the law. And prior to the majority justices' opinion in our case, we were denied that," he said.

Robert Morgenthau, who has been district attorney in New York since 1975, spoke on behalf of his protégé.

He called Sotomayor, who came to his officer after graduating from Yale Law School, "one of the brightest and one of the most mature" of his new hires.

He stressed her attention to the consequences of crime in neighborhoods and said she "understood that every case was important to the victim" of a crime." He also said she "simply would not be pushed around" by others on the prosecution's team or in other positions at the courthouse.

"The judge will be the only member of the Supreme Court with experience trying cases in the state courts," he added, predicting she would be an "outstanding" member of the high court.