By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, Associated Press Writer Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Associated Press Writer – 46 mins ago
But NRA Executive Director Chris W. Cox tells senators in a letter that his group is not yet ready to officially oppose Sotomayor.
Cox says Sotomayor's ruling as an appeals court judge that the Second Amendment prohibition against curbs on the right to bear arms only limits the federal government — not states — is extremely troubling. He says the judge has been "dismissive" of gun rights.
The letter urges senators to question Sotomayor on the Second Amendment during upcoming hearings. Cox says the NRA will oppose confirmation if her answers are hostile or evasive.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate's top Republican suggested Tuesday that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor lets racial bias cloud her rulings, even as a national lawyers' group rated her "well-qualified" to be a justice.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sotomayor's federal appeals court ruling last year against white firefighters alleging reverse discrimination leaves the impression she allows her own agenda to affect her judgment and she favors certain groups.
"It is a troubling philosophy for any judge — let alone one nominated to our highest court — to convert empathy into favoritism for particular groups," McConnell said. His attack comes less than a week before the Senate Judiciary Committee begins hearings on President Barack Obama's choice to replace retired Justice David Souter.
Obama said before naming Sotomayor that he was looking for a justice with "the quality of empathy," who could understand and identify with people's "hopes and struggles" in rendering decisions.
Conservatives have roundly criticized that concept, arguing such considerations have no place in a judge's interpretation of the law.
Sotomayor was part of an appeals panel that dismissed the firefighters' challenge to a decision by New Haven, Conn., to scrap a promotion test because too few minorities qualified. The Supreme Court reversed the appeals court last week.
McConnell said Sotomayor, who would be the first Hispanic on the high court, may have let her service with a civil rights group that represented Hispanics in job discrimination cases sway her decision. She held leadership roles on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, now known as LatinoJustice PRLDEF, from 1980 to 1992. During that time, the group brought several lawsuits in which minority workers claimed they unfairly were denied jobs or promotions in favor of white employees.
As McConnell sharpened his critique, conservative leaders pressed Republicans to delay a final vote on Sotomayor until September. GOP senators have given no indication they will do so, and many activists are frustrated with what they call the party's lackluster approach to the debate.
"You should not fear to enter the debate over this president's nominee, and certainly not because she is Hispanic," Manuel Miranda, the chairman of the Third Branch Conference wrote in a letter e-mailed to Republican senators on behalf of the coalition. The letter said drawing out the debate on Sotomayor would be good for the country and help Republicans win back control of the Senate.
At the same time, Sotomayor's nomination picked up momentum as the American Bar Association unanimously gave her its highest rating. The ABA released the rating in a letter to Greg Craig, the White House counsel.
Sotomayor has been rated twice before by the ABA — as a trial judge and appellate judge.
As a U.S. District Court nominee, she was deemed "qualified" by a substantial majority of the committee and "well qualified" by a minority. The last time the ABA reviewed Sotomayor's qualifications — when she was up for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — a majority rated her "well qualified," but that was not unanimous.
For more than 50 years, the ABA has evaluated the credentials of nominees for the federal bench, though the nation's largest lawyers' group has no official role in the process. Supreme Court nominees get the most scrutiny.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the Judiciary Committee chairman, called Tuesday's rating "further evidence of the outstanding experience" that Sotomayor would bring to the court.
"The ABA's rating — an evaluation of integrity, professional competence, and judicial temperament — should eliminate the doubts of naysayers who have questioned Judge Sotomayor's disposition on the bench."
ABA ratings are "well-qualified," "qualified" and "not qualified." Members of an ABA committee interview hundreds of colleagues — confidentially — and scour pages of a nominee's writings before coming up with the rating.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito also got unanimous a "well-qualified" rating from the ABA before their Senate hearings.
Associated Press writer Jesse J. Holland contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Senate Judiciary Committee: http://judiciary.senate.gov
ABA committee: http://www.abanet.org/scfedjud/
"Proelium Comminus Auctoritate" "Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a muzzle flash."
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