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Published: Saturday, 6/13/2009

Get on with the hearings

EVEN by the rancorous standards of recent U.S. Supreme Court nomination battles, federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor has been subject to a poisonous partisan attack.

This disgraceful campaign, stooping so low as to accuse her of racism or reverse racism, is a by-product of a dispirited Republican Party trying to energize its base. Critics of Judge Sotomayor's nomination clearly view this as a great political opportunity, not a chance to delve honestly into her qualifications. After all, most of them have already made up their minds.

That is why Americans should be wary of Republican complaints about the mid-July date set to convene the nomination hearings. When Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democrat from Vermont who is Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, announced that the hearings would start July 13, Republicans claimed to be surprised and angry. They wanted more time to "prepare," in reality, more time to make political hay.

GOP leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called it "heavy-handed." Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the leading Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said he would insist that the process be done right. "This rush is ill-advised," he said.

Judge Sotomayor's defenders point out that Senator Sessions sang a different tune in 2005 on the prospect that confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito might be delayed. "Let's not leave it hanging out there," he reportedly said at the time. "We don't need to read everything he has written."

Indeed.

The July 13 date is a reasonable goal. It gives Judge Sotomayor an opportunity to rebut the worst criticism of her, which, to be fair, has not come from GOP senators but from the likes of Newt Gingrich. Moreover, the date aligns with President Obama's desire to have Judge Sotomayor confirmed before the Senate's August recess and well in advance of the start of the Supreme Court's new term in October.

Judge Sotomayor was a leading contender for the nomination well before Mr. Obama tapped her on May 26. She has made more than 3,000 rulings during 17 years on the federal bench, so it's hard to believe that GOP operatives haven't kept book on her. It is understandable why they want to prolong the political moment, but it's in the public interest to get on with the nomination hearings.



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