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Sonia Sotomayor cramming in practice sessions near the West Wing

July 9, 2009 |  8:58 am

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic nominated to the court, makes the rounds of Capitol Hill before her confirmation hearings

These days, federal appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor is not in her New York chambers. She's not weighing cases or interrogating counsel or even writing opinions.

Instead, with hearings to start Monday in the historic, much-anticipated Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation process, Sotomayor is holed up in a small office in the Eisenhower Old Executive Office Building next to the White House.

A group of young aides and lawyers assigned by Team Obama poses mock questions based on research about each committee member's records. But mostly, reports CNN, Sotomayor is sitting quietly by herself, reading her back opinions, boning up on anything that might provoke a senator to raise a fuss.

"She's got to hit the books," said Thomas Goldstein, a D.C. appellate attorney. "They can ask you about any part of the law. And she's got to be ready for that."

In an earlier round of get-acquainted-sessions, Sotomayor met with 70 of the Senate's 100....

...members, which should help the cordiality quotient. And the newest senator, Minnesota's Al Franken, has already tipped his hand that he plans to ask her about campaign finance laws, expected to come before the court this session.

If so, Sotomayor is likely to duck. Ever since Ruth Bader Ginsburg's confirmation hearings in 1993, nominees have politely avoided answering questions about their views on sensitive issues like abortion or gun control. Here's a typical Ginsburg answer, now boiler plate among judicial nominees:

I must avoid giving an advisory opinion on any specific scenario. Because, as clear as it may seem to you, that scenario might come before me. I must avoid responding to hypotheticals, because they may prove not to be so hypothetical.

In the end, Sotomayor's hearings could prove less riveting than the buildup suggests. The Democrats now have a 60-vote majority in the Senate, so her confirmation -- barring some misstep or damaging disclosure -- seems likely.

In addition, Sotomayor would become the 111th justice on the Supreme Court -- but the first Latino ever to serve on the court. With Latinos a growing and important voting bloc in American politics, we imagine it would be tough for a lot of senators to vote no at such a historic moment.

But the greatest asset Sotomayor has going for her on Capitol Hill is her personal story. Born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents, robbed of a father's love by his early death when she was 9 years old, she lived in a housing project as her mother worked two jobs to give her a shot at an Ivy League education.

Once in college, Sotomayor excelled -- summa cum laude from Princeton, editor of the Yale Law Journal. Later, after working as an assistant D.A. in New York and for a private law firm, she was appointed to the district court by President George H.W. Bush and to the appellate court by President Clinton.

Oh, and she's contributed time and money to a lot of charitable causes.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Getty Images

Whatever happens on Monday, Top of the Ticket will be there. We're live blogging the hearings, posted explainers and analytical takes, and hoping in every way to take you inside the committee room.
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