Republicans will use next week's high-profile Senate hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor to raise concerns about her record on race, gun rights and abortion while Democrats work to defend President Obama's first high court choice as a mainstream judge who sticks to the law.
The two parties offered glimpses Thursday of their strategy going into the weeklong Judiciary Committee hearings that open Monday, announcing outside witnesses who will testify about Sotomayor. Republicans' list of 14 includes New Haven, Conn., firefighter Frank Ricci, a white employee whose reverse discrimination claim was rejected by Sotomayor in an appeals court decision.
Ricci challenged the city's decision to scrap the results of a promotion test because too few minorities scored high enough to qualify. Sotomayor was part of a panel that rejected Ricci's challenge. The Supreme Court reversed that ruling last week.
Republicans point to Sotomayor's decision as evidence she might let her personal and political views -- particularly a belief in racial preferences for minorities -- influence her decisions. They'll also call Ben Vargas, a Puerto Rican firefighter who scored highly on New Haven's promotion exam and was the lone Hispanic joining Ricci in his lawsuit.
Democrats said they've scheduled Sotomayor's mentors, confidantes and other allies, including civil rights leaders and several witnesses who come with GOP credentials. The goal: to portray Sotomayor as a mainstream judge with fans across the ideological spectrum. Among their 15 witnesses are Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, her first boss after law school; New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who ran as a Republican but became an independent in 2007; Louis Freeh, the former FBI director first named to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush; and Michael J. Garcia, a former Manhattan U.S. attorney who was appointed by President George W. Bush.
If confirmed -- as is widely expected -- the appellate judge, 55, would be the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the nation's highest court.
But first Sotomayor has to endure days in a marble-paneled hearing room under harsh television lights, fielding questions from the 19 senators on the Judiciary panel as the public watches. Behind the scenes, she's cramming for the hearings, which will include at least two days of intense question-and-answer rounds with senators. The outside witnesses will weigh in later, and Sotomayor won't be present.
Among the GOP representatives are Sandy Froman, a National Rifle Association board member and past NRA president who has urged senators to oppose Sotomayor, calling her hostile to the Second Amendment. Also on the Republican list is Charmaine Yoest, head of the anti-abortion rights group Americans United for Life, which says Sotomayor has a "pro-abortion agenda."
Liberals expected to testify on Sotomayor's behalf include Wade Henderson, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; Theodore Shaw, former president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Inc.; and Democratic Reps. Jose Serrano and Nydia Velazquez, New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent.
Sotomayor was on Capitol Hill on Thursday for the first time in weeks, meeting with newly sworn-in Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., the most junior member of the Judiciary Committee. She appeared cheerful as she chatted with him before their private talk, telling reporters her broken ankle was feeling much better.
Meanwhile, Republicans previewed the tough treatment she can expect at next week's hearings, keeping up a steady stream of criticism about her record. The Senate's Republican leader, Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, cited an article she wrote raising questions about the propriety of private campaign contributions, and an appellate court ruling in which a panel she joined upheld Vermont's strict limits on raising and spending campaign money.
"Over the past several weeks, we've heard about a number of instances in which Judge Sotomayor's personal views seem to call into question her evenhanded application of the law," McConnell said.
Several of the Senate's Democratic women defended Sotomayor.
"Judge Sotomayor's developed a record as a moderate judge who agrees with her more conservative colleagues far more frequently than she disagrees with them," said New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
As Democrats worked to show Sotomayor isn't biased, an independent research group released a new study showing that as a trial judge, she typically handed out tougher prison sentences than her colleagues in the federal courthouse in Manhattan, especially to white-collar criminals.
Nearly half the people Sotomayor sentenced for financial fraud and other white-collar crimes received at least six months in prison, according to an analysis by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. By contrast, roughly one out of three white-collar convicts received similarly lengthy prison terms from the other trial judges in the Southern District of New York, the study found.
Sotomayor served as a trial judge from 1992 to 1998, when she joined the federal appeals court in New York.
TRAC looked at 7,750 criminal cases handled by 52 judges during that period. Sotomayor presided over 261 of those prosecutions. TRAC obtained the data from the Justice Department under the federal Freedom of Information Act.