White House Wants Fast Sotomayor Confirmation

White House Wants Fast Sotomayor Confirmation

WASHINGTON - The White House says it's "absolutely essential" for the Senate to confirm federal appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor before it adjourns for the summer recess on August 10.

Top administration officials predict Sotomayor will "be very forthcoming" at her confirmation hearing. They expect Sotomayor to navigate questions about her judicial philosophy, temperament and appeals court opinions.

"The president was very interested in her from the start," a senior official said. "He trusts his instincts and his instincts are pretty good. She was the number one contender and there was a very, very compelling case for her from the very beginning."

Officials would not say that the nomination was Sotomayor's to lose, but clearly she entered the fray as the front-runner, bringing experience as a prosecutor, federal trial court judge, appellate judge and corporate attorney as well as an admirable up-from-public-housing story to two Ivy League schools and the cusp of the Supreme Court.

President Obama interviewed four candidates: Sotomayor, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Seventh Circuit Courts of Appeals Judge Diane Wood and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Obama interviewed Wood and Sotomayor on Tuesday and Kagan and Napolitano on Thursday. All sessions were at the White House.

Obama mulled the choice over the Memorial Day weekend and phoned Sotomayor about 9 p.m. EDT Monday. Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Sotomayor by phone on Sunday.

First Lady Michelle Obama played no formal role in the Sotomayor selection process, officials said.

The White House dismissed a couple of lines of criticism that have emerged immediately following Sotomayor's nomination -- that she is an "activist" and that she lacks the proper judicial temperament.

"None of that is going to pan out," a senior official said.

As for the Youtube clip where, at a Duke University law seminar on Feb. 25, 2005, Sotomayor says "the court of appeals is where policy is made" a senior administration official called it a "poor choice of words." But the official said the clip is taken out context and should not and will not damage her confirmation.

In the same clip of a forum on the differences between federal district and appeals courts where Sotomayor says the "where policy is made" line, "I'm not promoting it, I'm not advocating it." Later, she says appeals courts are where the "law percolates" and that appeals court judges, unlike district court justices, seek justice for a broader group of litigants and must weigh "how law is developing" and the precedent of case law underlying the case now before the court.

Senior administration officials said they have no concerns about Sotomayor's judicial reversal rate, which they estimated at three reversals in 380 opinions throughout her lengthy judicial career. They dismiss concerns that of the six opinions she has authored that have been reviewed by the Supreme Court, three have been reversed. She joined in two other opinions that also came before the high court.

The White House also expressed no reservations about Sotomayor's opinion in a reverse discrimination case involving the New Haven, Conn., firefighters who allege they were denied promotions they were qualified for solely because they were white. The Supreme Court is now reviewing the case, Ricci v. DeStefano.

A senior official who briefed reporters at the White House said Sotomayor followed 2nd Circuit Court precedent in joining an unsigned unanimous opinion of a three-judge panel of the appeals court. The full court did not grant an en banc review of the case, a signal, the White House said, that the other justices supported the precedent applied in the unsigned opinion.

The official said in this case Sotomayor applied judicial restraint by following existing precedent. The administration official said critics who want to attack Sotomayor as a judicial activist must balance that against what the White House regards as a clear example of deferring to legal precedent.