Video: Will Sotomayor attacks ease?

updated 6/1/2009 8:28:56 AM ET 2009-06-01T12:28:56

Republican senators on Sunday avoided joining those in the party using racially charged criticism against President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, underscoring the party's challenge in opposing the first Hispanic to be chosen for the nation's highest bench.

Appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor already faces scrutiny from conservative commentators and former officials over a 2001 remark that her experiences as a Latina would lead her to better decisions than a white man. Talk-show host Rush Limbaugh has called her a "racist" while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, saying a "Latina woman racist" is unsuitable for the court, has called for Sotomayor to withdraw her nomination.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican from Hispanic-heavy Texas, asked her colleagues to focus on Sotomayor's record instead of wading into a racially tinged debate.

"I definitely think we need to have the respectful tone and we need to look at the record," Hutchinson said. "We need to have the responsibilities that have been put on us by the Constitution taken very seriously."

Nomination has drawn fire
Sotomayor, nominated Tuesday to replace Justice David Souter when he retires, has drawn fire for suggesting her experiences influence her judicial decisions. The White House has said she likely regrets her choice of words but has stood by her nomination, a key test of the new administration.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he has better things to do than to police the language of conservatives calling her a racist.

"It is certainly not my view," McConnell said. "My view is we ought to take a look at this nominee's qualifications. I think her life story is absolutely impressive."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the committee that will conduct hearings on the nomination, said that he doesn't think Sotomayor is a racist. However, Graham, who is white, said she should apologize for comments that suggest "all the hardship she has gone through makes her better than me."

Obama's allies lined up in Sotomayor's defense.

"As long as you put rule of law first, of course, it's quite natural to understand that our experiences affect us. I don't think anybody wants nine justices on the Supreme Court who have ice water in their veins," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Obama wants Sotomayor's confirmation hearings to wrap up before Congress heads on a summer vacation in August. McConnell and Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont, the Democrat running the Judiciary Committee, said they would not be boxed in by a White House timetable.

Graham spoke on "Fox News Sunday." McConnell and Hutchison appeared Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." Schumer appeared on ABC's "This Week" while Leahy spoke to NBC's "Meet the Press."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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