WASHINGTON — Appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor is getting her first chance to make an impression on senators who will vote on her nomination to the Supreme Court, with a marathon set of Capitol Hill meet-and-greets that kicks off what could be a long debate.
Sotomayor's schedule Tuesday is packed with roughly half-hour meetings — known as courtesy calls — that are as important for the courtly tone they set for the debate as they are for offering a few moments of candid conversation with the nominee.
Republican senators have already begun to question remarks Sotomayor has made in the past about how her life experiences influence her judicial decisions. In turn, Democrats have defended her as a fair and unbiased judge, and all sides say they are eager to talk to her privately and question her in the public hearings to come.
Sotomayor is set to meet with 10 senators during her first day on Capitol Hill, retreating to Vice President Joe Biden's office between sessions to huddle with the White House team, heavy with confirmation battle veterans, that's guiding her nomination. Prominent on Sotomayor's list of visits are Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and their seconds-in-command, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
She'll also begin her rounds with the Judiciary Committee members who will hold the high-profile hearings on her confirmation, starting with Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman, and Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the panel's senior Republican, as well as Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Rounding out her schedule is lunch with her home state Democratic senators, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, her unofficial chaperone during the confirmation process, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
The White House is working daily to promote the narrative about Sotomayor that President Barack Obama began the day he named her: a seasoned federal judge who overcame hardship as a youngster and would deliver justice that reflects respect for the law but an understanding of real life.
Republicans, however, want to push Sotomayor about whether she would put her own views above the law and rule as an activist.
Senate aides in both parties are preparing for Sotomayor's voluminous response to a 10-page questionnaire the Judiciary panel sent her last week — an extensive survey of her life, public statements, rulings and political activities — which will add copious detail to the debate over her fitness and qualifications for the Supreme Court.
Barring a huge surprise, she is expected to be confirmed. Democrats control 59 seats in the Senate, where a majority vote is needed for confirmation, and seven Republicans previously voted to confirm Sotomayor for a lower court.
Sotomayor, 54, would replace retiring Justice David Souter, becoming the court's first Hispanic and its third woman.
Obama wants the Senate to confirm Sotomayor before its August vacation. The White House formally started the clock on Monday, sending her nomination to the Senate.