WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republican senators on Sunday said they will press Sonia Sotomayor at her Supreme Court confirmation hearings this week to explain public comments that they say raise doubts about her ability to judge cases fairly.
Yet the Republicans are unlikely to be able to derail Sotomayor's confirmation by the Democratic-controlled Senate in hearings that begin Monday. Republicans acknowledged they must be careful in their approach to the veteran federal judge who rose from poverty in a New York City public housing project to the verge of being the first Hispanic justice on the high court.
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that in speeches over the past 10 years, Sotomayor has said repeatedly that personal experiences influence a judge's decisions.
"She has criticized the idea that a woman and a man would reach the same result. She expects them to reach different results. I think that's philosophically incompatible with the American system,'' Sessions said.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, also a committee member, said he plans to ask Sotomayor about her comment in 2001 that she hoped a "wise Latina'' would often reach better conclusions than a white male without similar experiences. The statement, he said, "was not an isolated comment'' and that it is "antithetical to the whole idea of the rule of law.''
Cornyn also pointed up the potential political pitfalls for Republicans in confronting Sotomayor too aggressively. "A third of my constituents are Hispanic, and I understand that what they want, and what every nominee deserves, is for the nominee to be treated with respect. And we will,'' he said.
Cornyn and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who also represents a sizable Hispanic population, described Sotomayor's life in identical terms as a great American success story.
Obama chose the 55-year-old Sotomayor, whose parents are from Puerto Rico, after Justice David Souter announced his retirement. If confirmed, she is not expected to change the balance of power on the court. Souter was among the court's four liberal justices. There are four reliably conservative justices, with right-of-center Justice Anthony Kennedy holding the balance of power.
The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said Sotomayor's 17-year record on the bench shows her to be a "mainstream judge.''
Also Sunday, Sotomayor picked up the endorsement of the International Association of Police Chiefs, adding to the show of support from the major U.S. law-enforcement organizations.
Sessions and Leahy spoke Sunday on CBS television's "Face the Nation'' while Cornyn appeared on "Fox News Sunday.'' McCain appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press.''