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White House Seeks to Pave Smooth Path to Confirmation for Sotomayor

President Obama has won praise from liberals and earned grudging respect from conservatives for picking Sonia Sotomayor, a Latina with deep judicial experience and an inspirational personal story, to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

But if Obama hopes to achieve a swift confirmation -- and he wants her confirmed before the Senate leaves in August for its summer recess -- he'll have to shield his first Supreme Court nominee as much as possible from the bumps and bruises her opponents are planning to inflict.

Republicans have been signaling that July may be too early for a vote, as they want more time to search for any skeletons that she might be hiding in her closet.

The biggest controversy surrounding her so far involves remarks she made in 2001, in which she said she hopes "a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often that not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Some conservatives have seized on that to accuse her of being racist.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who has tried to deflect the criticism by explaining she was only referring to the value of diversity, said Friday that Sotomayor would say her word choice was "poor." He reiterated his defense of her remarks: that her experiences are relevant to the process of judging, and personal experiences make you more aware of certain facts and cases.

Asked how he knows Sotomayor would say her word choice was "poor," he said he's had discussions with people who have spoken with the nominee about it.

The controversy has threatened to disrupt the White House's careful packaging of Sotomayor that officials set in motion with the announcement of her selection. They arranged a conference call Wednesday with six legal experts and attorneys who are Sotomayor boosters to rebut charges that she would bring a personal agenda to the court or strive to use rulings to make policy.

On Tuesday, Sotomayor will start her rigorous rounds of visits with lawmakers. Gibbs said she is scheduled to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the top members of the Judiciary Committee, Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

Oother visits still are being scheduled, including with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

In private, the 54-year-old Sotomayor -- a veteran of the federal bench who was reared in a Bronx housing projects and attended Princeton and Yale en route to the highest echelons of the legal profession -- phoned key senators as she began preparing to face them in high-stakes hearings. So far, she has spoken with Reid, McConnell, Leahy and Sessions.

Sessions said he doesn't foresee a filibuster to block a vote on Sotomayor, and Democrats appear to have more than enough votes to confirm her.

Nevertheless, Democrats e-mailed contributors telling them that the GOP was "ready to obstruct."

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the head of the party's Senate campaign committee, wrote that "we have a fight on our hands" over Sotomayor's nomination.

The staff of the Judiciary panel, which will run hearings on Sotomayor's nomination, huddled researching her record and released a detailed, 10-page questionnaire the judge will have to answer in advance of the public session she will undergo with senators. Democratic aides on the panel met Thursday on Capitol Hill with White House officials to plot strategy.

The questionnaire asks Sotomayor to divulge personal, financial and employment information and to provide copies of all her writings, speeches, interviews and opinions. She also has to list any potential conflicts of interest and describe how she would resolve them and reveal details about her nomination, including whether she was asked by anyone how she would rule on any potential Supreme Court case or issue and how she responded.

FOX News' Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.