Bad news for Sotomayor? Puerto Rican group sends docs to Senate

Published July 1, 2009 7:15 am
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A Puerto Rican legal advocacy group late Tuesday sent a trove of documents from Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's past to the Senate panel considering her nomination.

Latino Justice PRLDEF sent the Judiciary Committee more than 350 pages of documents from the 12 years Sotomayor spent on its board, opening what could be an ugly new chapter in the debate over confirming the federal appeals court judge as the first Hispanic justice.

The documents were not immediately available, and committee aides confirmed their receipt on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss them publicly.

Republicans, who have criticized Sotomayor's involvement in the group and called it radical, signaled they were searching for clues in the documents about her stances on the many hot-button issues the civil rights organization handled.

A GOP Judiciary aide said the material details PRLDEF's opposition to failed conservative high court nominee Robert Bork, and its ties to the community-activist group ACORN.

Republicans and Democrats teamed to request the documents, and GOP senators have suggested the delay in uncovering them is grounds for delaying hearings on the nomination, now set to begin on July 13.

Earlier Tuesday, Cesar Perales, PRLDEF's president and general counsel, said he was planning in the coming days to send the Judiciary panel several batches of meeting minutes from Sotomayor's period of service from 1980 until 1992, as well as pleadings from cases it handled while Sotomayor headed the board's litigation committee.

Formerly known as the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the group took up a number of causes during that time, including backing bilingual education and abortion rights and opposing the death penalty, which it equated with racism.

Democrats defend Sotomayor's participation in what they call a mainstream civil rights organization.

It's unclear what effect, if any, the disclosures might have on Sotomayor's nomination, since she is said to have had no direct involvement with the group's legal activities. The litigation panel she sat on was an outside group that didn't participate in cases but set broad policy and guidelines.

"She was on the board of directors, she was not a member of the legal staff, so she was not directly involved in the legal arguments that we presented," Perales told The Associated Press in an interview. "Her role was to help us raise funds, set policy, hire the person who would run the organization. ... We don't expect to uncover anything particularly interesting."

Still, Perales and his staff have been combing through 300 cartons of documents for any bit of paper that might be pertinent to Sotomayor's confirmation. That includes any letter, report or memo written by any committee she served on during her dozen years on the board.

Perales said the Judiciary panel should have all the material by the end of the week.

"They'll have a lot to read," he said of senators. "We hope to produce them all by Friday -- even if we have to pull all-nighters."

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