A date to keep: GOP gripes about Sotomayor's hearing ring hollow

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Even by the rancorous standards of recent Supreme Court nomination battles, federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor has been the subject of a gross level of 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 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 a mid-July date to convene the nomination hearings. When Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced this week that the hearings would start July 13, Republicans were reportedly surprised and angry. They wanted more time to prepare -- in reality, more time to make political hay.

Republican 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.

Yet Judge Sotomayor's defenders say that Sen. Sessions sang a different tune before the confirmation of Samuel Alito in 2005. "Let's not leave it hanging out there," he reportedly said then. "We don't need to read everything he has written." Indeed.

For his part, Sen. Leahy defended the July 13 date in terms of giving Judge Sotomayor an early opportunity to rebut the worst criticism of her, which, to be fair, has not come from GOP senators but from others like Newt Gingrich. But the date aligns with President Barack Obama's desire to have Judge Sotomayor confirmed before the Senate's August recess -- a reasonable goal.

Mr. Obama announced Judge Sotomayor as his nominee on May 26, but she had been seen as a leading contender at the beginning of the month after it became clear the president was seeking a female candidate. Although she has made more than 3,000 rulings over 17 years on the federal bench, the Republicans effectively will have had two and a half months to dig through her record by the time the hearings begin.

As she had been hiding in plain sight, it is clear that GOP operatives had kept book on her for years. It is understandable why they want to prolong the political moment, but it's in the public interest to get on with the nomination hearing.


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