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Sotomayor makes rounds of Capitol Hill

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By Julie Hirschfeld Davis

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is racing through a crucial set of meetings with senators on Capitol Hill, working to reassure Republicans who worry she’d bring ethnic and gender bias to her decisions.

Sotomayor, who would be the high court’s first Hispanic and third woman, is telling senators in both parties that while her background has shaped her worldview, she believes in following the law and wouldn’t let her life experiences inappropriately influence her judging.

President Barack Obama’s first Supreme Court choice was meeting privately Wednesday with 10 Republicans and Democrats as the leaders of the Judiciary Committee meet separately to try to cut a deal on when her confirmation hearings should begin.

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Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., the Judiciary chairman, wants the process to begin next month, with the goal of holding a final confirmation vote before Congress leaves in early August for a monthlong summer vacation. He’s negotiating with Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the panel’s top Republican, who says he’d rather go slower delving into Sotomayor’s voluminous record of rulings during her 17 years as a federal judge, with hearings to be held in September.

Obama is pushing for a quicker timetable, hoping to spare Sotomayor the potential pitfalls of a drawn-out public debate on her confirmation during the customary August news lull and get her seated in time to participate in discussions at the high court in September on which cases to hear when the session begins in October.

Sotomayor, 54, had an auspicious first day of face-to-face meetings — known as "courtesy calls" — with Senate leaders and Judiciary members, keeping mum as senators in both parties said positive things about her record and experience.

Still, Republicans said they’re concerned about a speech she made in 2001 in which she said she hoped her decisions as a "wise Latina" would be better than those of a white male judge without similar experiences. The remark, among others, has fueled suspicions among conservatives that Sotomayor fits the mold they have long accused Democrats of using for choosing judges: that of an activist who will bring her political views and personal agenda to interpreting the law.

Senators and their aides will soon be deluged with even more rulings and statements on which to base their defenses and criticisms of Sotomayor. She plans to respond soon to a detailed questionnaire that delves into personal and financial details, her experience as a lawyer and judge and even her selection as a nominee — including whether she was asked about any case or issue that could come before the Supreme Court, and what she said.

Most of her scheduled meetings Wednesday were with Judiciary members, but Sotomayor also was slated to meet with several Senate women who don’t serve on the panel, including Democratic Sens. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Patty Murray of Washington and Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.

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