Majority of Americans Back Sotomayor

High court pick makes Senate debut with private meetings

A majority of Americans back Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court, with two-thirds saying in a new poll that they are following news on President Obama's high court pick "closely."  

Just one week since her national roll-out, 55 percent of those polled by the Gallup Organization said they would like to see Sotomayor confirmed, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Twenty-eight percent said they opposed her nomination, while 19 percent of those polled had no opinion, the paper reported. Her high numbers at this stage of the confirmation process are similar to those of Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel Alito Jr. -- all of whom were confirmed by the Senate.

As Sotomayor made her Senate debut with a series of private meetings Tuesday, Republicans said they would prefer holding hearings on her nomination in September, which could cloud the speedy summertime confirmation Obama wants.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs reiterated the president's view that she be confirmed before the August break.

"We believe that she will get a fair shake and a fair set of hearings," he said.

Meanwhile, a separate AP-GfK poll just released suggested Sotomayor was looked on more favorably than any of former President George W. Bush's nominees to the bench, including Chief Justice John Roberts, his most popular pick.    

Sotomayor also got props Tuesday from the Senate's top Democrat, who called the Supreme Court nominee an "underdog" who has the "whole package."

Sen. Harry Reid, one of the leaders who will vote to either confirm or deny Sotomayor's nomination, praised the New York federal judge, who would be the first Latina and only the third woman to sit on the country's highest court.

"We have the whole package here," Reid said as he met with Sotomayor in his Capitol Hill office.

"America identifies with the underdog, and you've been an underdog many times in your life, but always the top dog," the Democratic Senator from Nevada told Sotomayor during the meeting.

Reid cited Sotomayor's life story -- she grew up in New York City and ended up at two of the country's most prestigious universities, Princeton and Yale -- saying President Obama couldn't have found a more "compelling" nominee.

"We could not have anyone better qualified," Reid said.

Sotomayor also met with Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., who said that bombastic Republican claims that Sotomayor is "racist" are simply untrue.

"She is not a racist," Leahy said.

Leahy said that Sotomayor would "follow the law" as a judge -- and wouldn't let race, ethnicity or background cloud her judgment.

"Ultimately and completely, a judge has to follow the law no matter what their upbringing has been," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the panel chairman, quoted President Barack Obama's nominee as saying in their closed-door session on Capitol Hill.

Sotomayor spent the day on Capitol Hill hob-nobbing with several of the Republican and Democratic senators who'll debate her confirmation. She was scheduled Tuesday to meet with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, members of the Judiciary Committee, and fellow New Yorkers Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Also on her agenda for the week are meetings with top Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and Judiciary Committee leader Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

Republican talking heads like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich have questioned Sotomayor's past remarks about her life experience -- particularly one controversial speech in which Sotomayor said a "wise Latina woman" could make a more capable legal decision than a white man. Democrats, on the other hand, have defended Sotomayor's record, saying the judge is more than qualified for the seat.

Leahy said he's eager to give Sotomayor the chance to respond to "unbelievable attacks" by Republican critics.

"It pretty well demands that she has a hearing earlier than later," said Leahy, who wouldn't dish about what he planned to ask Sotomayor in their meeting.

Feinstein said she would ask the Latina judge about the controversial comment, which the Senator said had been "made into something egregious," and about her stance on abortion.

Sotomayor was scheduled to meet with 10 senators in total during her first day on Capitol Hill -- guided along the way by Vice-President Joe Biden and White House staff who counseled Sotomayor on her Senate meetings.

Sotomayor, 54, would replace retiring Justice David Souter. She's expected to be confirmed - Democrats hold 59 Senate seats and could push her nomination through alone.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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