Republicans will call two New Haven firefighters to testify in the confirmation hearings of Sonia Sotomayor next week, making clear the GOP's intent to place affirmative action at the center of the Senate battle over Sotomayor's nomination.

A Judiciary Committee press release lists Frank Ricci and Ben Vargas as expected Republican witnesses. Ricci was the lead plaintiff in Ricci v. DeStefano, the controversial case in which Sotomayor ruled the New Haven fire department acted constitutionally when it discounted the results of a qualifying test for promotions after too few black firefighters scored as high as their white counterparts. Vargas, who is Hispanic, was the only non-white co-plaintiff in the racially charged case.

The Supreme Court later overturned that decision.

Meanwhile, Democrats will trot out New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who supports Sotomayor's nomination. Also testifying at the behest of Democrats will be former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau (Sotomayor's boss when she was a prosecutor) and former major league pitcher David Cone. (I'm assuming Cone's testimony has something to do with Sotomayor "saving baseball.")

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