White House wants Sotomayor hearings in July

The White House upped the ante on the timing for putting Judge Sonia Sotomayor on the Supreme Court, saying Tuesday the president would like to see her confirmation hearings begin by mid-July.

Even as Senate Republicans have signaled they prefer a final confirmation vote not be rushed before the August recess, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that mid-July would give the Senate the same amount of time given to review the last nine judges.

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The average time allotted to review those judges, Gibbs said, was 51 days since nomination. The last four -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito -- lasted 54 days from nomination to hearings.

Even though Obama had originally said he wanted his nominee to be confirmed by the start of the next session, Gibbs said it is important to stick to the recent timetable to ensure she could be confirmed not only before the beginning of the court's term in October but also by the time the justices decide in September which cases will be heard.

Gibbs said the 51 to 54 day average "would provide a timetable by which the due diligence of senators on both sides of the aisle can be accomplished."

The White House officially sent Sotomayor's nomination to the Senate on Monday, and the judge began sitting down for interviews with senators Tuesday morning. The questionnaire she is required to fill out and submit to the Senate Judiciary Committee will be completed and sent this week, Gibbs said.

Gibbs said the response so far from Sotomayor's sit-downs on Capitol Hill has been encouraging.

"Almost universally, I think the comments have been positive," he said.

Gibbs said Sotomayor will have a chance to address controversial remarks she made about gender and race at a 2001 speech at the University of California Berkley as soon as Tuesday. In the speech, Sotomayor said, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Conservative blogs and talk radio have seized on that comment, with some going as far as to call the judge "racist."

Gibbs, then Obama, said they think Sotomayor would choose her words differently if given the chance.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who met with Sotomayor on Tuesday, said after the meeting that Sotomayor told him she would follow the law “ultimately