Old and New Faces On Senate Panel

Live from the Capitol, Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings promise high political theater this week, beamed to the world in dramatic, historic, perhaps comedic glory.

When the curtain rises Monday on Sotomayor's nomination to become the Supreme Court's first Hispanic justice, a large cast of ambitious players will be ready to explore themes from racial conflict to legal controversy, as well as personal facts and views.

If this is a show, top billing must go to Sotomayor herself, the federal appeals court judge who grew up in a New York housing project where her parents had moved from Puerto Rico. But with camera-loving politicians in charge, the Senate Judiciary Committee drama won't be just about her.

This is about them, too.

Two lawmakers, a Vermont liberal and an Alabama conservative, will have leading roles. Backing them is a supporting cast that will include the Defenders, the Skeptic, the Patriarch, the Doyenne, the Wild Card and the Novice.

Visually, they'll be grouped like this: Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Sotomayor at center stage facing each other. Eleven other Senate Democrats - nine white men, two white women - will sit to the audience's right, eager to help Sotomayor defend herself against any conservative charges. Their mandate: do no harm to her overwhelming prospects for taking over retired Justice David Souter's seat on the nine-member court.

On the audience's left - but to the right on your scorecard - will be seven white male Republican senators with a delicate task: respectfully challenging the Latina nominee - on crutches, recovering from a broken ankle - without alienating women or Hispanics.

And try to do it while facing two visible reminders of the GOP's rout in the 2008 elections.

Seated at the end of the Democratic side will be Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, until this year a Republican, and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., the former TV comedian making his Senate debut. He just emerged as the victor in an eight-month recount battle against Republican incumbent Norm Coleman.

This program aired on July 13, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.


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