BY ANDY SULLIVAN
WASHINGTON – The battle over U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor began to take shape on Wednesday as liberal supporters praised her as an independent legal thinker and conservatives argued she likely would rule based on her emotions rather than established precedent.
In telephone conferences, television appearances and Twitter feeds, activists outlined themes that likely will be fleshed out over the coming months as the first Hispanic Supreme Court pick heads to the Senate for confirmation.
A coalition of liberal groups unveiled a nationwide TV ad campaign that highlighted Sotomayor’s rags-to-riches story and characterized her as “fair-minded” and “independent.” Legal experts assembled by the White House praised her as a careful jurist who decided each case on the facts before her.
“This is a lawyer’s lawyer, this is someone who actually understands all the way down how the craft of law works,” Harvard University law professor Martha Minow said on a White House conference call.
President Barack Obama announced his choice of Sotomayor on Tuesday for a lifetime appointment to serve on the nine-member Supreme Court, replacing retiring Justice David Souter.
Conservatives argued that she would use personal feelings to decide cases, pointing to her 2005 comment that federal appeals courts are where “policy is made” and her 2002 comment that a Latina judge “would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
Also, a conservative group launched a new ad that criticized Sotomayor for “liberal activism.”
Sotomayor, an appeals court judge who is the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, is unlikely to change the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court as she would replace Souter, who is part of the court’s liberal wing.
With Obama’s Democrats commanding a 59-seat majority in the 100-member Senate, Republicans are unlikely to gather the necessary votes to block her nomination.
Republicans also are wary of further alienating Hispanics, the country’s largest minority group. Hispanics have voted increasingly Democratic in recent elections.
But Senate Republicans conceivably could delay a vote until after the August congressional recess, allowing more time for opposition to her candidacy to build.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said Sotomayor’s nomination should come to a vote before the Supreme Court begins its next session in October.
Sessions, who voted against Sotomayor’s appeals court nomination in 1998, said he would question her closely on her decision as part of a three-judge appeals panel to uphold hiring practices designed to favor minorities and address past discrimination.
“We should not confirm somebody to the Supreme Court that will allow political, personal or emotional issues to influence the decision making,” Sessions said on MSNBC.
Prominent Republicans outside of the Senate were less circumspect.
“White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote on his Twitter feed.
Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh said Republicans should try their hardest to block Sotomayor even though they are unlikely to succeed.
“She is an affirmative action case extraordinaire, and she has put down white men in favor of Latina women,” Limbaugh said on his radio show on Tuesday.