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Senate Will Have To Confirm Court Choice

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And if you missed the announcement a few moments ago, her name is Judge Sonia Sotomayor. And there was much talk, as we heard, in that announcement of her personal story. In fact, Judge Sotomayor, the nominee, when she got a chance to speak, she introduced her brother, her sister-in-law, her niece, her nephews, her mother. Her father, of course, died when she was nine years old. There was much emphasis on the personal story.

But now this becomes a political story. NPR's David Welna, who covers the Congress, is still with us. And David, do you have any early reaction from the Republicans who, if anybody would oppose this nomination in great numbers, would be them?

WELNA: I do, Steve. Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, who is a member of the Judiciary Committee, has put a statement on Judge Sotomayor's nomination. And he says that, you know, Congress has to work its will and do its fair review of this nomination. But he also makes it clear that he is not going to be won over easily. He says it is my hope that the process will allow her to prove herself to possess the impartiality, integrity, legal expertise and judicial temperament that we have come to expect from those that sit on our highest court.

And he points out that this would be a lifetime appointment. He adds: she must prove her commitment to impartially deciding cases based on the law rather than based on her own personal politics, feelings and preferences. I'm sure this is going to be something we're going to be hearing again and again over the coming weeks.

INSKEEP: And in just a few seconds, let's remember the mechanics here. This goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Assuming they approve it, it goes to the full Senate. And while there will be some Republicans who are skeptical, including the one you just heard, the question is whether Republicans are skeptical enough to mount a filibuster and if they have the power to sustain it.

WELNA: The question would be whether they could keep Democrats from getting 60 votes to block any attempt at a filibuster. And right now that seems to be a very tough thing for Republicans to do, given the numbers.

INSKEEP: Okay. David, thanks very much.

WELNA: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's congressional correspondent David Welna.

DAVID GREENE, host:

We're now joined by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who's the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and will be running the confirmation hearings for Judge Sotomayor. Senator, thanks for being with us.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: And as I understand it, you're in Kabul, Afghanistan right now. Tell us what you're doing there and how you got word of the nomination today.

Senator LEAHY: Well, I was visiting our troops here. President Obama called me to notify me that he was going to be making the announcement in a few hours at that time and talk to about it. I think I think he's making a very good choice.

She has a distinguished background. She certainly has a wonderful life story, born to a Puerto Rican family, growing up in public housing projects and everything she did to work her way through law school. And she actually would be coming to the Supreme Court with more judicial experience than any justice for the last hundred years.

INSKEEP: Well, tell me how much conversation there was between you and the White House leading up to this announcement. Were you expecting this name? Did you get a chance to offer some advice and feedback or was this a pretty close process?

Sen. LEAHY: We've had I have talked to the president about a number of names. He first called me the day the news came out about David Souter leaving in fact reached me in my car. I was on my way to Vermont. We talked about a number of aspects then. I urged him to talk to both the Republican and Democratic leadership. And to his credit, he sat down with all of us and we went over some of the qualifications. I gave him a list of different names I had. I told him that I would hope that it would be somebody with some real life experience, not just in the judicial monastery. I certainly felt that with nine justices, having only one woman on the Supreme Court did not reflect America, and he seemed to agree.

I was not surprised at the choice. This is a woman who has been nominated by both President George H.W. Bush and President Clinton for a judgeship.

INSKEEP: Well, Senator, can I just ask you about the real life experience you talked about? The president has said that he was looking for someone who has empathy, who has sort of real life experience. And those are terms that some Republican colleague of yours haven't reacted well to so far. What's going to be your message to them to deal with (unintelligible)?

Sen. LEAHY: We have some, unfortunately, in the other party who are going to oppose anybody the president comes up with. And we've already got some of the special interest groups on the far right who are sending out fundraising letters.

INSKEEP: But they've made a very specific argument here, saying that dealing with, you know, a justice, those sorts of things empathy shouldn't be considerations.

Sen. LEAHY: Empathy is in the eye of the beholder. Somebody's had some real life experience, here's a - here's a person who was a very tough and effective prosecutor. And as a former prosecutor, I like that. I like that (unintelligible) I like that. She was co-counsel in the so-called Tarzan murder case. She's been a corporate litigator. She's been a prosecutor. These are real life these are real life experiences. Too often we have people think of life in total abstract. I think a prosecutor especially gets to see life in the good parts and also in the very tough parts.

INSKEEP: Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he's joining us very generously on the line from Kabul, Afghanistan. Senator, thank you so much.

Sen. LEAHY: Thank you.

Let's just recap the news from this morning. President Obama, at the White House, announced his nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. She would become the first Hispanic to serve on the high court if she is confirmed.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.

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