Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy announced Tuesday that confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor will convene on July 13, considerably earlier than many Republicans wanted.
Leahy said the date presents a "fair and adequate" schedule that would give members of the committee several more weeks to prepare.
President Barack Obama has urged the Senate to vote on confirming Sotomayor to the high court before it leaves for a congressional recess in August. Republicans have pressed for more time to consider the nomination.
But Leahy, D-Vt., said there was "no reason to unduly delay consideration of this well-qualified nominee. She deserves the opportunity to go before the public and speak of her record."
He said the hearings will be her first and only opportunity to publicly defend herself against criticism of her, including conservative charges that she's racist.
"This is a historic nomination, and I hope all senators will cooperate," Leahy said. "She deserves a fair hearing -- not trial by attack and assaults about her character."
There was no immediate response from the GOP on Leahy's announcement, which came after several days of private haggling with Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Judiciary Republican, on a hearing date.
Leahy said he had informed Obama by telephone about his plans and that the president "seemed pleased with the date I set."
The schedule should allow for a vote on confirming Sotomayor before the August break, Leahy said, "unless people put unnecessary delays" on the nomination.
He noted that the timetable roughly matches the one Republicans and Democrats agreed on for confirming Chief Justice John G. Roberts after then-President George W. Bush named him in 2005.
The announcement came as Sotomayor was camped out in a Capitol office meeting with a succession of visiting senators, having scrapped plans to go see them in their offices because of a broken ankle.
Sotomayor said she felt great a day after stumbling in the airport while rushing for a flight from New York to Washington. But the judge, whose right leg is in a cast and is using crutches, opted to hold meetings in the office of the No. 2 Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, rather than hobble through hallways for the eight visits on her schedule.
Obama's team, meanwhile, continued promoting Sotomayor's confirmation; it held an event at the White House to showcase her endorsement by eight national law enforcement organizations including the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Association of District Attorneys.
Vice President Joe Biden said their backing was proof of Sotomayor's "lifelong commitment to law enforcement."
On hand to praise Sotomayor was her former boss, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.
"The judge has been an able champion of the law, and has served with great distinction," said Morgenthau, for whom Sotomayor worked as an assistant prosecutor after graduating from Yale Law School.
Conservatives called the event an attempt to falsely portray Sotomayor as a "law and order" judge.
"The purpose of this sideshow is to avoid facts in Sotomayor's actual record that indicate a soft-on-crime judge who twists the law, particularly law at the intersection of race and crime issues, and who avoids binding precedent as a lower court judge in ways that unnecessarily favor criminals and hinder law enforcement," Wendy E. Long, counsel of the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, said in a memo.
Among the evidence Long cited to back up her claim was a position paper that Sotomayor signed in 1981 on behalf of a task force she chaired for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. The paper equated the death penalty with racism.
Long also referred to a ruling Sotomayor issued last year in which she sided with the city of New Haven, Conn., in a discrimination case brought by white firefighters.
The city threw out the results of a promotion exam because too few minorities scored high enough. The case, Ricci v. DeStafano, is now before the Supreme Court.
Long said that Sotomayor's decision had "undermined law enforcement."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)