Firefighter will be witness against Sotomayor

Supreme Court Sotomayor
Supreme Court nominee Sonia SotomayorPablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Republicans announced Thursday that they plan to call a white firefighter to testify against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor during her Senate confirmation hearings that open Monday. New Haven, Conn. firefighter Frank Ricci's reverse discrimination claim was rejected by Sotomayor.

GOP plans to showcase Ricci during the Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings indicate her critics will make racial bias a central theme of the hearings on President Barack Obama's nominee for the high court, who would be the first Hispanic to serve there.

Sotomayor was part of an appellate court panel that rejected Ricci's challenge to New Haven's decision to scrap the results of a promotion test because too few minorities scored highly enough to qualify. The Supreme Court reversed the ruling last week. Republicans point to Sotomayor's decision as evidence that she might let her personal and political views — particularly a belief in racial preferences for minorities — taint her decisions.

Democrats will use the hearings to counter that charge and introduce Sotomayor as a mainstream judge with fans across the ideological spectrum. Among their 15 witnesses are people who know her best, including Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, her first boss, as well as several figures with at least some claim to GOP credentials, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — who ran as a Republican but switched his affiliation to independent in 2007 — former FBI Director Louis Freeh, first named to a federal judgeship by former President George H. W. Bush, and Michael J. Garcia, a former Manhattan U.S. attorney appointed by then-President George W. Bush.

‘A moderate judge’
"Judge Sotomayor's developed a record as a moderate judge who agrees with her more conservative colleagues far more frequently than she disagrees with them," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said at a Capitol Hill news conference where Democratic women trumpeted their backing for Sotomayor, who would be the court's third female justice.

Many liberals will also speak up for Sotomayor at the hearing. Democrats plan to call Wade Henderson, the head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Theodore Shaw, former president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc., and Democratic Reps. Jose Serrano and Nydia Velazquez, both New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent.

Sotomayor was on Capitol Hill for the first time in weeks Thursday, meeting with newly sworn-in Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., the most junior member of the Judiciary Committee. She appeared cheerful as she chatted with Franken before their private talk, telling reporters that her broken ankle was feeling "much better."

Behind the scenes, she's busy cramming for the hearings, which will last about five days, including at least two days of intense question-and-answer rounds with senators.

Republicans kept up a steady and intensifying stream of criticism of Sotomayor's record. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, hit her over an article she wrote raising questions about the propriety of private campaign contributions, and an appellate court ruling in which a panel she joined upheld Vermont's strict limits on raising and spending campaign money.

"Over the past several weeks, we've heard about a number of instances in which Judge Sotomayor's personal views seem to call into question her even-handed application of the law," McConnell concluded.

Abortion, gun rights
The GOP's witness list for next week's hearings also suggests they'll make issues of abortion and gun rights at Sotomayor's hearings. Sandy Froman, a National Rifle Association board member and past NRA president who has voiced strong opposition to the judge and called her hostile to the Second Amendment, is scheduled to testify. So is Charmaine Yoest, head of the anti-abortion rights group Americans United for Life, which says Sotomayor has a "pro-abortion agenda."

Also testifying will be Ben Vargas, a Puerto Rican firefighter who scored highly on New Haven's promotion exam and was the lone Hispanic joining Ricci in his reverse discrimination lawsuit.