updated 7/6/2009 12:53:13 PM ET 2009-07-06T16:53:13

A top Republican senator said Monday that he wants to find out whether Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor would let racial bias affect her decisions as a justice.

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Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said he assumes Sotomayor understood and supported the stance of a civil rights group she advised in the 1980s that brought several race discrimination lawsuits for minorities who challenged jobs or promotions given to white employees.

"It raises questions about, is that her philosophy, and is she going to carry that to the courts and apply it even if the law does not support it?" Sessions said on Fox News.

If confirmed, Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic to serve on the high court. She was on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund from 1980 until 1992, while the organization represented Puerto Ricans and other minorities in employment, education and housing discrimination cases, among others.

Sotomayor held leadership roles on the board, including on its litigation committee, in charge of setting broad goals and strategy for the group's legal activities, according to PRLDEF officials and documents it sent the Senate.

Sessions charged that Sotomayor supervised the lawyers who brought the racial bias cases, although there was no evidence in the voluminous batch of files the group gave the Judiciary panel that she did so, nor had any direct role in lawsuits. Now the Republican said she must tell senators whether that work will taint her rulings.

The Alabama senator was nominated to a federal judgeship in 1986 but was denied the bench because of questions about his racial fairness as a prosecutor.

Sessions' latest salvo came as the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary panel, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, officially set the start of Sotomayor's confirmation hearings for the morning of July 13.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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