“You have one leader of the Republican Party call her the equivalent of the head of the Ku Klux Klan. Another leader of the Republican Party called her a bigot,” the Vermont Democrat said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “The leadership of the Republican Party came out against her long before we had the hearings, long before they looked at her record. I think that’s unfair.”
“I hope we don’t go back to the day when we used to have African-Americans up for confirmation and say yes, but you belong to the NAACP so we’re really suspicious of you,” said Leahy. “Come on, stop the racial politics. ...”
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, tried to jump in, saying, “Come on, Pat, I want to disagree ...” but Leahy continued:
“That’s what comes across. It comes across that if you belong to a group that tries to help Hispanics, ... somehow you’re suspicious. The same arguments were used against Thurgood Marshall, and I think it’s wrong.”
Former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo has criticized Sotomayor for her membership in the National Council of La Raza, which he called “a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses.”
Other Republicans have teed off on Sotomayor’s now-infamous “wise Latina” remark.
Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh has called Sotomayor a “bigot and a racist,” and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called her a “racist” — although Gingrich later took back his remark and acknowledged last week that the judge came off as “dramatically more moderate” in her confirmation hearings.
Sessions defended his party as simply conducting a vigorous investigation of Sotomayor’s background.
“No Republican leader said she was a bigot,” said Sessions. “There’s nothing wrong with us asking about her personal views about legal positions that she took as a member of any organization. That’s a normal thing to do.”
Sessions would not say how he’ll vote on Sotomayor’s confirmation, but he did say he’s bothered by her work for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, a group he called “very aggressive” in its support for abortion rights.
Leahy wouldn’t estimate how many votes Sotomayor would get either in the Judiciary Committee or on the floor, but he promised she would have Republican support.
At least three Republican senators have already said they’ll vote for Sotomayor: Mel Martinez of Florida, Dick Lugar of Indiana and Olympia Snowe of Maine. Snowe said last week that Sotomayor “appears neither rigid nor dogmatic in her approach to the essential task of constitutional interpretation.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday that he will oppose Sotomayor’s nomination. “What I worry about with regard to Judge Sotomayor is that her personal views which she’s expressed quite frequently leads me to believe that she lacks the objectivity,” he said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.”
But walking the same fine line being tread by many other Republicans — the GOP does not want to risk offending Hispanics or women — McConnell also said that Sotomayor is “an outstanding individual and should be commended for her lifetime of service.”