Sessions: Sotomayor vote by recess doubtful

Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Monday he doubted a final vote on Sonia Sotomayor could be held before the congressional recess in August, a day before the Supreme Court nominee visits Capitol Hill.

Sessions (Ala.) said he planned to consult with Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on a schedule for Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings, but repeatedly said he disagrees with the need for the process to conclude by the end of July. The Obama administration is urging a vote before August to allow Sotomayor the chance to be ready for the Court’s October work session.

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But Sessions noted that retiring Justice David Souter has pledged to stay on the bench until October, and that Sotomayor’s 17-year record as a judge is longer than previous nominees like Samuel Alito and will take more time to scrutinize.

“I don’t favor that,” Sessions said of a final vote in late July. “Justice Souter has given us plenty of time, and this nominee has, I think, 3,600 cases, and probably more that have to be looked at and thought about. It’s the only opportunity the American people have.

“Every president always pushes to have these votes fast… There’s plenty of time after the August recess to have a confirmation before October, and that would be my preference.”

Sessions had said previously — before Obama announced Sotomayor as his nominee — that a final Senate vote before August would be difficult.

Sotomayor is scheduled to meet with several Senate leaders on Tuesday, including Sessions, Leahy, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Judiciary Committee member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) and New York Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D).

Sessions said he wants to just get to know Sotomayor, and that his 1998 vote against Sotomayor for a circuit judgeship does not automatically mean he will oppose her this year. He made reference to a 2001 Sotomayor speech which critics have said proves she would be biased toward minorities, but strongly disagreed with critics such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has called Sotomayor a racist.

“She deserves an opportunity to deal with the complaints against her, to express her explanations for various things that you see in the papers today,” Sessions said. “I do think that it is very important that anybody who serves on the U.S. Supreme Court be committed to faithfully following the law, that they are objective, and that they call the balls and strikes no matter what team is on the field, and they don’t favor one team over another. There are some things that have been raised that we need to explore.”