WASHINGTON — Don't expect a lot of fireworks from the Senate Judiciary Committee today as it begins hearing testimony on whether Sonia Sotomayor should be the next Supreme Court justice.
"My bet is that we'll see a relatively dignified hearing," said Christopher Eisgruber, Princeton University provost and author of The Next Justice: Repairing the Supreme Court Appointment Process.
"There will certainly be partisan politics all through it," he said, "but it seems almost certain Judge Sotomayor will be confirmed."
The 55-year-old federal appellate judge, bidding to become the first Hispanic to sit on the court, has much in her favor:
She has a lengthy judicial record, was first nominated by a Republican president (the first President George Bush, who last month told CNN she had a "distinguished record on the bench") and has received strong endorsements from respected legal and law enforcement groups. And senators can score political points by embracing her.
"There's no point in having a huge battle with the first Hispanic nominee," said Susan Low Bloch, Georgetown University professor of law.
The hearing is expected to last all week. It will begin at 10 a.m., when Sotomayor, a native of the Bronx, will be introduced by New York's U.S. senators. The 19 committee members, 12 Democrats and seven Republicans, are then scheduled to each make 10-minute opening statements. Those will provide clues to the tone and substance of the questioning to come.
Sotomayor will then make her own opening statement, probably in midafternoon. Senators will begin questioning her Tuesday; each member will get 30 minutes. Once that's done, probably Wednesday, American Bar Association officials will explain why Sotomayor won their "well qualified" rating.
Next will come a long list of witnesses called by committee members. Among the notables: For Democrats, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former FBI Director Louis Freeh.
Republicans plan to call Frank Ricci, whose bid for a New Haven Fire Department promotion became a celebrated Supreme Court case, U.S. civil rights commissioner Peter Kirsanow and longtime conservative activist Linda Chavez.
Sotomayor and two others on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Ricci, a white firefighter who was denied a promotion despite high test scores. The Supreme Court overturned that decision in a 5 to 4 decision last month.