Washington (AP) - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy announced Tuesday that confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor will convene on July 13, considerably earlier than Republicans wanted.
Leahy said the date presents a "fair and adequate" schedule that would give members of the committee several more weeks to prepare.
President Barack Obama has urged the Senate to vote on confirming Sotomayor to the high court before it leaves for a congressional recess in August. Republicans have pressed for more time to consider the nomination.
But Leahy, D-Vt., said there was "no reason to unduly delay consideration of this well-qualified nominee. She deserves the opportunity to go before the public and speak of her record." He said the hearings will be her first and only opportunity to publicly defend herself against criticism, including conservative charges that she's racist.
"This is a historic nomination, and I hope all senators will cooperate," Leahy said. "She deserves a fair hearing - not trial by attack and assaults about her character."
Republicans questioned the schedule, saying it was too early to know whether they would be done reviewing Sotomayor's nearly 17-year record of rulings from the federal bench in time to allow for hearings that soon.
"An arbitrary date on this nomination, when we're not clear yet how long it's going to take to work our way through her extensive record ... strikes me as not a good way to proceed," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The announcement came as a surprise to Republicans, several aides said. It followed a round of private haggling between Leahy and Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Judiciary Republican, on a hearing date.
At the White House, spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama was pleased with the schedule, which puts Sotomayor on track for confirmation in time for the start of the court's term in the fall.
Both Leahy and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., spoke to Obama by phone Tuesday morning before Leahy went to the Senate floor to announce the hearing date.
Mid-July hearings should allow for a vote on confirming Sotomayor before the August break, Leahy said, "unless people put unnecessary delays" on the nomination. He noted that the timetable roughly matches the one Republicans and Democrats agreed on for confirming Chief Justice John G. Roberts after then-President George W. Bush named him in 2005.
The announcement came as Sotomayor was camped out in a Capitol office meeting with a succession of visiting senators, having scrapped plans to go see them in their offices because of a broken ankle.
Sotomayor said she felt great a day after stumbling in the airport while rushing for a flight from New York to Washington. But the judge, whose right leg is in a cast and is using crutches, opted to hold meetings in the office of the No. 2 Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, rather than hobble through hallways for the eight visits on her schedule.
Obama's team, meanwhile, continued promoting Sotomayor's confirmation; it held an event at the White House to showcase her endorsement by eight national law enforcement organizations including the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Association of District Attorneys.
On hand to praise Sotomayor was her former boss, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.
"The judge has been an able champion of the law, and has served with great distinction," said Morgenthau, for whom Sotomayor worked as an assistant prosecutor after graduating from Yale Law School.
Conservatives called the event an attempt to falsely portray Sotomayor as a "law and order" judge.
Among the evidence conservatives cited was a position paper that Sotomayor signed in 1981 on behalf of a task force she chaired for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. The paper equated the death penalty with racism.
Associated Press Writers Ann Sanner, Jim Abrams, Julie Pace and Phil Elliott contributed to this story.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy announced Tuesday that confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor will convene on July 13, considerably earlier than Republicans wanted.