One of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's biggest advantages in her path to the Supreme Court could be US senators' predilection for speechifying, their love of hearing themselves talk.
The hearing is starting this morning with opening statements from each of the 19 Senate Judiciary Committee members -- 12 Democrats and seven Republicans -- if they want to make them.
And even when they start questioning Sotomayor on Tuesday, their queries will be prefaced by the recitation of talking points, even some grandstanding.
But the more the senators talk, the fewer opportunities she'll have to slip up or say something controversial that could provide an opening to her opponents.
Without a major mistake, most observers agree that she will be confirmed, noting that Democrats are in firm control of the judiciary panel and the full Senate, that Sotomayor boasts the American Bar Association's highest rating and the backing of the several law enforcement groups, and that she has been easily confirmed twice before to the federal bench.
And Democrats are already warning their Republican colleagues to lay off what they describe as personal attacks.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, besides extolling Sotoamyor's "truly American story," urged committee members to avoid the kinds of questions and to resist the entreaties of outside advocacy groups who are trying to create a "caricature" of her.
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican and the second to speak, pledged a respectful tone and serious discussion of the issues. But then he embarked on a cautionary litany of federal judges pushing their personal and political agendas and corrupting the legal system.
Sessions specifically cited President Obama's statements that he wanted a high court justice with "empathy," asserting that that will lead to a liberal, activist judge.
And he cited Sotomayor's ruling against white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., who accused the city of reverse discrimination, arguing that empathy for one group of firefighters meant prejudice toward another.
UPDATE: After the day's proceedings, the liberal Alliance for Justice praised Sotomayor and blasted her Republican critics.
"Judge Sotomayor’s moving and thoughtful opening statement promises more insight to come from the judge as the meat of the hearing, the questioning, gets under way. Like her record, Judge Sotomayor’s statement reflects a commitment to the rule of law and core constitutional values," the group's president, Nan Aron, said in a statement.
“There were few surprises today. As predicted, Republicans used the hearing not to explore and discuss Judge Sotomayor’s impressive 17-year record, but instead attempted to score political points by dwelling on hot button political issues. “Tomorrow, Judge Sotomayor finally gets the opportunity not just to respond to her critics, but, more importantly, to share with the American people her story, her qualifications and her understanding of the law.”
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.