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Politics

How About a Compromise on Sotomayor Hearings?

The latest spat over President Obama's Supreme Court nomination is over timing.

The latest spat over President Obama's Supreme Court nomination is over timing. Obama wants a vote before the August recess on Sonia Sotomayor, about 10 weeks after her nomination and roughly the same timeline used for President Bush's nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Republicans say that's too quick, that they need more time to study Judge Sotomayor's record. They don't want to hold hearings until September, three and a half months after she was named. But there's a way to make both sides at least somewhat happy. Call it a bipartisanship compromise.

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The Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee must be awfully busy -- or awfully slow -- if they need 10 or 11 weeks to get ready to ask questions. They complain that they need the time to study her 4,000-plus opinions as a sitting judge. Nonsense. Most of those opinions are routine, and many were already reviewed before she was confirmed by the Senate for her current job on the federal appeals court. Plus, with all the interest groups pouring over her record to try to prove or disprove this theory or the other, the GOP has plenty of legal firepower for backup. The real reason for seeking delay is to keep the pressure on, to show conservative groups that Republicans are fighting the good fight and, not coincidentally, to let everyone do a lot of fundraising on the issue.

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Democrats want none of that (apart from the fundraising) and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, suggested today that he'll schedule hearings in July. Leahy makes a very good point that a lengthy delay is unfair to the nominee. Protocol requires that she make no public declarations before the hearings, which means she can't answer the charges being made against her. And some of those charges have been pretty nasty.

Leahy is right in saying that waiting until September is unfair, but there's no real reason why Obama needs to have a confirmation vote by August. The court doesn't convene until October, and decisions on cases won't be known until December. So a September vote is good enough, given the strong likelihood of confirmation. 

How about this, then, as a compromise?  Hold the hearings in July, but postpone a final vote on Sotomayor until September. If Republicans come up with a smoking gun by then, there can be additional hearings to answer the new questions. That won't make anyone completely happy, but it would seem to meet the strongest objections of each side.

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