Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Sen. Martinez 'delighted' with Sotomayor after private meeting

Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., praised Sonia Sotomayor’s personal qualities and “understanding of the role of the judiciary.”

Associated Press

Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., praised Sonia Sotomayor’s personal qualities and “understanding of the role of the judiciary.”

WASHINGTON — She greeted him in Spanish. He handed her a copy of his book. They chuckled over some recent mishaps.

Conservatives hoping Republicans in the Senate will block Sonia Sotomayor's ascension to the U.S. Supreme Court best not look to the senator from Florida: After a 30-minute meeting with Sotomayor on Tuesday, a "delighted" Sen. Mel Martinez pronounced her smart, likable and prudent.

"I think she's a very, very bright person, very, very much someone who the Supreme Court will find will fit in very well," said Martinez, a Republican from Orlando.

He said he will withhold judgment about whether she deserves a lifetime appointment to the court until her Senate confirmation hearings this summer, "but I should say I am very, very impressed with her, not only her personal qualities, but her understanding of the role of the judiciary, and the role of a judge."

Two weeks ago, President Barack Obama tapped Sotomayor, an appeals court judge in New York, as his choice to replace retiring Justice David Souter. Now she's meeting with Senate leaders, Judiciary Committee members and Republicans whom the White House sees as potential allies in the confirmation battle ahead — like Martinez.

He is the only Hispanic Republican in the Senate. If confirmed, she would be the Supreme Court's first Hispanic justice, and only its third woman. Her confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin July 13.

Martinez and Sotomayor both come from humble beginnings. He was a refugee from Cuba after the Communist revolution. She was the daughter of poor Puerto Ricans; her mother worked two jobs after her father died.

The focus on Sotomayor's ethnicity and life story, coupled with Obama's stated desire to choose judges with "empathy," has sparked concern among conservatives that Sotomayor is more interested in interpreting the law as she thinks it should be, rather than as it is.

Yet Martinez was more interested in defending her Tuesday than in joining some of his Republican colleagues — and a swarm of conservative commentators and activists — in blasting her past remarks and rulings as evidence of "reverse racism."

When asked about Sotomayor's 2001 statement that she hoped a Latina would make a wiser decision than a white male without the same experiences, Martinez said he understood her point.

"The richness of her experience informs who she is — it informs who I am," he said. "I think the question really is, will she rule as a Latin woman, or will she rule as a judge based on precedence, based on the law, and obviously the facts before the court.

"Based on my conversation with her today I think she was using that as rhetoric, but I don't think that is how she rationalizes in her opinions. So far, from the review of the opinions that I have heard of, this does not seem to be an element of how she rules."

The two exchanged pleasantries in Spanish when they met. He gave her a copy of his book, A Sense of Belonging, which he signed for her mother, Celina, who lives in South Florida.

And his first question for the judge? "What happened to your foot?" Martinez said.

Sotomayor fractured her right ankle Monday while racing to catch a plane at New York's LaGuardia Airport. Her lower leg is encased in a cast. Martinez injured a tendon in his right hand while riding dirt bikes over the weekend. His middle finger is wrapped in a splint.

He laughed. "Empathy," he said.

Wes Allison can be reached at or (202) 463-0577.

Sen. Martinez 'delighted' with Sotomayor after private meeting 06/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 9, 2009 9:18pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren joins other prosecutors in protesting Jeff Sessions' 'tough-on-crime' policy


    TAMPA — Andrew Warren, the state attorney for Hillsborough County, is among signers of a letter from 31 district prosecutors nationwide voicing opposition to the tough-on-crime policies of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    Hillsborough State Atttorney Andrew Warren is among the signers of a letter from 31 top prosecutors nationwide opposing Attorney General Jeff Sessions' 'tough-on-crime' policies. ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times
  2. Suspect tells police he killed roommates for disrespecting his Muslim faith


    TAMPA — A man accused of shooting his roommates in a New Tampa apartment told police he shared neo-Nazi beliefs with the two men until he converted to Islam then killed them because they disrespected his faith.

    Devon Arthurs, 18, of Tampa told police  he shared neo-Nazi beliefs with his roommates, Jeremy Himmelman and Andrew Oneschuk, until he converted to Islam and shot them because they disrespected his faith.
[Photo courtesy of Tampa Police]
  3. Nelson, Rubio want Trump to back off cuts to drug office


    Citing an opioid crisis “devastating Florida,” Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio are asking the Trump administration to back off plans to gut the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

    A letter to the Office of Management and Budget
  4. US President Donald Trump, left,  meets with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Monday, in Jerusalem. Trump opened his first visit to Israel Monday, a two-day stop aimed at testing the waters for jumpstarting the dormant Middle East peace process. [AP photo]
  5. Study: Florida most friendly state for retired veterans

    Working Life

    Florida is the nation's best state for military retirees looking for somewhere to settle. That's according to a study released Monday by WalletHub which rated Florida the most friendly when it comes to economic factors, quality of life and health care.

    Veterans watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during training camp in 2016. Florida is the most friendly state for retired veterans according to a new WalletHub study. | LOREN ELLIOTT, Times