Leahy, Sanders approve of Obama's pick for high court

05/26/09 5:50PM By Bob Kinzel
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AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor appears with President Obama at the White House.
(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says he thinks President Obama has made "a very good choice" in nominating federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court.

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, Leahy will play a key role in Sotomayor's confirmation hearings.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Speaking from Afghanistan where he's visiting with U.S. troops, Leahy said Sotomayor is well prepared by her legal and personal experience to fill the vacancy caused by the retirement of Justice David Souter. And Leahy says he thinks the President is sending several important messages with this appointment:

(Leahy) "I think he's saying that here I'm sending you somebody who has more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice in over 100 years and I think that is one message. The other message I believe he's saying we need some diversity on the Court the Court's got to be more reflective of America."

(Kinzel) Leahy says he expects that a number of conservative special interest groups will try to derail the nomination and he says any talk of a GOP filibuster is little more than a fundraising gimmick:

(Leahy) "I think it would be totally irresponsible that just because somebody wants to raise some money from the far right by saying well I'll filibuster or oppose and so on. If they don't like her vote against her but I'm willing to bet she's going to get a very, very solid vote for justice and I intend in my committee to make sure she gets through."

(Kinzel) Senator Bernie Sanders says he's very pleased that the President has nominated a woman to serve on the Supreme Court and he says he looks forward to hearing her testimony on several issues:

(Sanders) "How do we defend the United States and yet make sure that people are protected in terms of their basic constitutional rights? And the second issue that concerns me is, at a time of growing corporate power and corporate abuse how do we make sure that working people and consumers get equal justice under the law as well?  So I hope she will address those themes and I'm confident that if she does she will be seated."

(Kinzel) Cheryl Hannah is a Vermont Law School professor who specializes in the workings of the U.S. Supreme Court.

She says Obama made a great selection and she thinks Sotomayor will play an important role working on the Court with Chief Justice John Roberts:

(Hannah) "It's really Roberts who's going to shape the direction of the court and I think he's looking for somebody who can work with Roberts to keep the court from splintering as much as it has. But also I think what he gets with Sonia Sotomayor who like Scalia will be able to communicate effectively with the public because part of what the law's power is only the power of persuasion... and with future justice Sotomayor I think she has that possibility as well to really shape public opinion."

(Kinzel) Senator Leahy says he wants a timely review of this nomination so that Sotomayor can be formally sworn in before the Court begins its new session in early October.

For VPR News I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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