Sotomayor hearings begin today

The real fireworks are likely to come later in the week, but senators and outside groups are laying the groundwork

By Alex Koppelman
Published July 13, 2009 2:01PM (EDT)

This summer's biggest political event -- hearings on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court -- is set to kick off at 10 a.m. EDT Monday. But the real fun will have to wait a couple of days.

The first day of the hearings will consist of the usual formalities -- that is, the 19 senators of the Judiciary Committee basking in their camera time and getting to hear themselves talk. At length. Sotomayor herself won't be speaking until the afternoon, around 1:30 EDT, and questioning isn't expected to begin until Tuesday morning; other witnesses won't testify until Thursday.

But the hearings' biggest drama could come from those witnesses, especially two on the Republicans' witness list. The minority has called, among others, two firefighters from New Haven, Conn., who were involved in one of the more controversial cases in which Sotomayor has taken part. One of them, Frank Ricci, is the named plaintiff in the case -- expect Republicans to use him to make an argument that Sotomayor unfairly favors minorities over whites.

Supporters of Sotomayor have already started to fight back against Ricci, spreading opposition research about his background, and a few outlets have already picked it up. As well they should: Turns out that this isn't the first discrimination suit Ricci has brought, and the first ended with him getting a job due to his claim -- that makes him resemble the other side of the lawsuit he brought that Sotomayor heard.

Sotomayor is widely expected to be easily confirmed, if only because of the Democrats' overwhelming majority in the Senate. But Americans still aren't totally convinced about her, a new CBS News poll released Monday showed. She's got a 23 percent favorable rating -- down  10 percentage points from last month -- and a 15 percent unfavorable rating. Sixty-two percent of respondents said they're undecided or haven't heard enough about her. Thirty percent of respondents say they believe she should be confirmed; 14 percent disagree and 52 percent couldn't or didn't say either way.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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