Hatch: Sotomayor 'extremely liberal,' though he and Bennett voted for her in 1998

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor in 1998 to a federal appeals court, as did fellow Utah Republican Bob Bennett.

But it's unclear yet whether the Utah duo will offer their nod of approval this time around now that President Barack Obama has tapped Sotomayor for the Supreme Court.

Hatch already has warned that Sotomayor -- who will be the first Latino on the bench and the third woman if confirmed -- is "extremely liberal."

Hatch, former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and its longest-serving member, said on Fox News recently that Sotomayor's past statement that appeals courts are "where policy is made" could haunt her through her confirmation process.

"That's a problem," Hatch said during an interview with the network before Sotomayor's nomination was known.

"She would have, I think, a more difficult time if she was nominated because of statements like that, and, of course, she has a whole raft of opinions that I think would have to be scrutinized very carefully," Hatch added.

Hatch also said in a separate interview with conservative radio host Scott Hennen that Sotomayor is "very liberal."

"She is a tough prospect. She is not only female but she is a Latino. She grew up in the housing projects. She understands human hardship but she is extremely liberal, no question about it."

Meanwhile, the past president of Utah's Minority Bar Association said Tuesday that "attorneys of color" are excited and elated about Sotomayor's nomination.

"She will personify an aspiration for young Latinos entering the legal field," said J. Simon Cantarero, noting that of the 10,000 to 12,000 attorneys in Utah, only "a couple of hundred" are females of Hispanic descent. Cantarero also remarked on Sotomayor's varied experience as a prosecutor, corporate attorney, trial judge and appeals court judge.

"She's been in the trenches," he said. "She knows what it's like for people like me - corporate litigators - and has been a trial court judge, which is a very different experience than an appellate court judge, [and] very different than the typical Ivy League, Wall Street lawyer turned judge."

He added: "Long term, her perspective and experience will bring a voice to Supreme Court that's not there currently, but will be there for a generation."

Appearing on ABC's "This Week" a few weeks ago, Hatch refused to call Sotomayor a radical but said that she was "on the far left of the spectrum."

On Tuesday, Hatch's office issued a short statement after Obama's announcement, congratulating Sotomayor on her appointment but warning that the Senate must now ensure the judge is qualified for the high court.

"Judges swear an oath to decide cases impartially, without regard to the identity of the parties before them," Hatch said. "I will focus on determining whether Judge Sotomayor is committed to deciding cases based only on the law as made by the people and their elected representatives, not on personal feelings or politics."

Bennett, too, was quick with a one-sentence statement: "I congratulate Judge Sotomayor on her nomination to serve on the Supreme Court, and I look forward to thoroughly reviewing her record."

A search of transcripts from Sotomayor's confirmation hearings in 1992 and 1997 show that Hatch didn't question the judicial nominee at either hearing.

tburr@sltrib.com, mcanham@sltrib.com

Stephen Hunt contributed to this report.