Will It Get Ugly? Both Sides Prepared for Start of Sotomayor Hearings Monday

By MichaelJames

Jul 12, 2009 11:37am

In a letter to the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee released by the White House this morning, Russell Laine, the chair of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, endorsed the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, saying she's "consistently demonstrated a firm understanding of, and a deep appreciation for, the challenges and complexities confronting our nation’s law enforcement officers."

The White House trumpeted the endorsement, saying that the IACP's backing means that "Judge Sotomayor now has the support of every major law enforcement organization in the U.S., representing nearly all of law enforcement."

But the White House knows that such endorsements can mean little in confirmation battles.

So officials are pulling out all the stops, trying to leave nothing to chance.

Sotomayor, White House officials say, paid 89 courtesy calls on members of the Senate, which they say is a new record.

A senior White House official tells ABC News that those meetings were immeasurably helpful in preparation for the hearings that start Monday because "you get a feel for what they want to know and how her answers work."

"We've spent most of the past two weeks in extensive mock hearings, so she gets a good feel for the questions and can hone her answers," the official said. "Her style is down to earth and straightforward — not the sort of great speechmaker that [now-Supreme Court Chief Justice John] Roberts was, but a more pragmatic and 'just the facts' style that [former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day] O'Connor had when she was up."

Those mock hearings have been conducted by Vice President Biden's chief of staff, Ron Klain, White House Counsel Greg Craig, Counsel to the Vice President Cynthia Hogan, Associate White House Counsel Susan Davies and Deputy White House Counsel Cassandra Butts, among others.

The ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told reporters Friday that the hearing "will be focused on her views and writings. I will ask her if she agrees with the opinions of the organizations she supported."

Unquestionably, this will mean questions about her "wise Latina" remarks, as well as her leadership in the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.

It will also include her ruling against the white and Latino firefighters in the New Haven firefighters' case Ricci v DeStefano, since overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling.

The White House has dismissed criticisms against Sotomayor's ruling in that case, saying that "she applied 2nd Circuit precedent" and her ruling “shows restraint.”

But certainly not everyone agrees, and Ricci — one of the white firefighters who alleged racial discrimination against the city of New Haven — appears on the Republicans' witness list.

On Friday, the liberal group People for the American Way sent e-mails to journalists saying they needed to look into Ricci's "troubled and litigious work history," McClatchy Newspapers reported. Ricci filed a lawsuit in 1995 saying the city of New Haven discriminated against him regarding his dyslexia, the liberal group pointed out.

Over the weekend the NAACP, kicking off its 100th year anniversary convention, vowed a "full-court press" to make sure Sotomayor is confirmed, the New York Daily News reported.

"We fully support her," said NAACP President Benjamin Jealous. "An attack against one of us is an attack against all of us." Jealous said, "Sessions should cool his heels and focus on her qualifications."

Polls, in general, show strong public support for Sotomayor; a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll indicated 62 percent of the American people think she should be confirmed.

A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey showed a tighter margin, with 47 percent support, 40 percent opposed and 13 percent unsure. CNN's poll director said one reason why the poll might show less support for Sotomayor is because CNN's survey, unlike other polls, does not identify Sotomayor as President Obama's pick.

The hearing kicks off tomorrow at 10 a.m. in the Hart Senate Office building.

Sotomayor will be introduced by home state Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, followed by the judge herself.

"Her foot is still in a boot/cast," the White House official said, adding that, physically, she's in quite a bit of discomfort. 

Starting at 10 a.m. ET, ABCNews.com will feature live-streaming coverage of the Sotomayor confirmation on a special section at ABCNews.com/Politics/SoniaSotomayor.

- jpt

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