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New Documents Shed Light on Sotomayor's Thoughts About Sept. 11 Attacks

The White House released a new set of documents late Monday that shed light on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's thoughts about the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as provide details about her work for a Puerto Rican advocacy group. 

Her comments about the legal lessons from Sept. 11 could draw criticism from liberal groups. 

Hundreds of pages of documents were delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday and will be reviewed by senators in advance of Sotomayor's July 13 confirmation hearing. 

The most interesting document details a March 2003 lecture Sotomayor gave at the Indiana University Law School. She used the occasion to reflect on the Sept. 11 attacks and the court cases that followed. 

"I know many families of victims for whom the pain has not abated and for whom grieving is still vibrantly alive and vibrantly hurtful," the native New Yorker said. 

But her comments discussing the long-term legal lessons from 9/11 could spark debate in liberal circles. She appeared to justify the treatment of two men, Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla, who were held as "enemy combatants" in connection with the 9/11 investigation. 

Describing the various legal challenges the two men had pursued to that point, she concluded, "we have suspected enemy combatants detained in secret and given different process than criminals. One can certainly justify that type of detention under precedents and current law." 

In 2004, Hamdi and Padilla had their cases heard in the Supreme Court. Later that year Hamdi was sent to Saudi Arabia and in 2008 Padilla was sentenced to 17 years in prison. The American Civil Liberties Union was one of the groups to lead the effort to prevent the government from labeling these men and others as "enemy combatants." 

Before Sotomayor delved into the legal mechanics of the issue her thoughts turned to race, as they have in other public remarks that have come to light since her nomination. 

She observed that anyone in the world watching television on Sept. 11, 2001, "could not miss the diversity of colors and hues" of the New Yorkers scrambling to evacuate the destruction of the World Trade Center. She said "on September 11, we stood as Americans and as human beings and saw past our ethnic differences and responded to a common threat with a complete giving of heart, soul and for some, of life." 

The new documents also include material written during Sotomayor's time with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, and others from her time working at a New York law firm representing international businesses and from the 1990's when she was a federal trial court judge. 

One of the newly released PRLDF documents is a letter addressed: "Dear friend of bilingual education." Another starts off by saying "The Fund has long been a proponent of understandable instruction for Hispanic limited English proficient (LEP) students, as a means of ensuring equal access to educational opportunity."