On the eve of Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings that begin Monday, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island delivered a steadfast defense of the Supreme Court nominee on the Senate floor today.
Whitehouse, a member of the Judiciary Committee that will hold the hearings, said he's impressed as a former prosecutor with her experience as a practicing attorney and prosecutor.
"Like millions of Americans, I have been inspired by her personal story. Frankly, it gives me goose bumps to think of that little girl growing up in the projects in the Bronx and growing into the woman we see before us now at the top of the legal profession, with a career of exemplary conduct, exemplary academic achievement, exemplary judicial experience already behind her. It is really a great story of American discipline and achievement," he told his colleagues.
"Unfortunately, critics of Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation have unleashed an avalanche of innuendo meant to weaken the case for her confirmation. These criticisms began among the right-wing talking heads, but unfortunately some of them are now voiced by my Republican colleagues here on the floor. Indeed, rather than waiting for the hearing to ask her about her record and her judicial philosophy, a number of my colleagues have come to the floor to attack her and her nomination."
To criticism of her judicial philosophy as outside the mainstream, Whitehouse argued that Sotomayor has stuck to precedent during her career on the bench. He also tried to turn the tables, arguing that Chief Justice John Roberts has not been a neutral "umpire" on the court, but has been a judicial activist.
And to criticism that her life experience -- she would be the first Hispanic on the high court -- would damage her ability to be fair and impartial, Whitehouse asserted that judicial discretion -- based partly on personal experience -- is part and parcel of American legal tradition.
"It is harsh, narrow-minded, and ahistoric to contend that a rich life experience and natural empathy are at odds with that judicial tradition," he said.
Meanwhile, both Democrats and Republicans today submitted their witness lists for the confirmation hearings.
Republicans plan to call Frank Ricci, the white firefighter in New Haven, Conn., whose reverse discrimination claim was rejected by Sotomayor. He was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging his city's decision to scrap the results of a promotion test because too few minorities scored highly enough to qualify. Sotomayor was part of an appellate court panel that rejected Ricci's claim. The Supreme Court reversed the ruling last week.
Republicans also plan to call Sandy Froman, a former president of the National Rifle Association, which has criticized Sotomayor on gun ownership rights, and Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, a Washington-based group that opposes abortion.
Democrats' witnesses include New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, and former Major League Baseball pitcher David Cone. As a federal district court judge, Sotomayor ended a long baseball strike in 1995, ruling in favor of the players and against the owners.
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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.