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Sessions Expects Vote on Sotomayor in August

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is on track for an early August confirmation vote, following four days of testimony that won her praise from even some of the Senate Judiciary Committee's more conservative members.

The lead Republican on the panel, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, commended Sotomayor on Thursday for her humor and "direct" manner and said he has no plans to block a vote on her nomination in the full Senate.

He said he believes the Senate will vote on Sotomayor before its summer recess, scheduled to begin Aug. 7. That could allow President Obama's first high court appointee to be in place for a major case to be heard Sept. 9 testing campaign regulation.

Sotomayor thanked the senators for their "graciousness."

On the last day of her confirmation hearings, she continued to decline to reveal her views on contentious topics such as abortion and gun rights. "Would you want a nominee who came in here and said, 'I agree with you. This is unconstitutional,' before I had a case before me?" she asked Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.. "I don't know that that's a justice that I can be."

Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he wanted the panel to vote on sending Sotomayor's nomination to the floor Tuesday, but Sessions said Republicans would exercise their right to delay the panel's vote one week. That would mean a vote by the full Senate the week of Aug. 3.

Sotomayor, 55, was first nominated to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, in 1992 and promoted to the appellate court by Democrat Bill Clinton in 1998.

"Your judicial record strikes me pretty much in the mainstream," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Sotomayor.

Yet he and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said they continued to have trouble reconciling her record with her controversial off-bench statements.

Democrats, such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, stressed Sotomayor's record as a tough prosecutor.

When the panel turned to outside witnesses, firefighters Frank Ricci and Benjamin Vargas testified about why they sued New Haven, Conn., for "reverse discrimination." Their appearance - sought by Republicans - was a rare one for court confirmation hearings, which usually don't include plaintiffs.

The men spoke about studying hard for promotional exams only to see the city toss the test results because whites significantly outscored minorities. Sotomayor joined an appellate court decision backing New Haven. The Supreme Court overturned that ruling in June. "I studied harder than I ever had before," said Ricci, who is dyslexic. "I was a virtual absentee father and husband for months because of it."

Vargas, the one Hispanic in the lawsuit, said they did not ask "for sympathy only for evenhanded enforcement of the law."

The men declined to comment on whether Sotomayor failed to show good faith in her ruling.

Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau told the panel his protégé would be an "outstanding" justice.

David Cone, a former Major League pitcher, praised Sotomayor for her verdict ending a baseball strike in 1995. He said she "was the one who made the tough courageous call that put the players back on the field."

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