WASHINGTON- U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor sought to answer critics on Tuesday with a vow to follow the law ultimately and completely, and a key senator said he wanted confirmation hearings next month so she can rebut what he called unfounded charges of racism.

With the attacks that have been going on against her, I think it would probably be irresponsible to leave her hanging out there until September, when Republicans favor a hearing, said Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat.

Sotomayor, a former prosecutor and private attorney who has served as a federal judge for the past 17 years, appears certain to be confirmed by the heavily Democratic-controlled Senate as the first Hispanic on the nation's highest court -- and U.S. President Barack Obama's first nominee to the court.

Leahy said he had asked Sotomayor about a comment that critics have seized on in which she said a Latina woman might as a judge reach a better conclusion that a white male.

What she said was, 'of course one's life experience shapes who you are,' Leahy said.

But ultimately and completely -- and she used those words, ultimately and completely -- as a judge you follow the law.

The panel's ranking Republican, Senator Jeff Sessions said his party wanted to carefully review more than 3,000 of her court cases. I don't think it's good to rush this nomination.

Leahy and Sessions spoke to reporters after they and other senators met with Sotomayor who made courtesy calls on Capitol Hill.


Liberal and moderate supporters praise Sotomayor as an independent legal thinker well-suited to replace retiring Justice David Souter.

But conservative activists and some Republican senators warn that some of her public comments indicate she likely would rule based on her emotions rather than legal precedent.

Some well-known conservative activists, including former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, have even accused her of racism.

Senate Republicans have rejected such characterization, but maintain she will need to answer plenty of questions at her confirmation hearing, which they want held off until September.

Obama has accused Sotomayor's critics of twisting her words, and Leahy said the nominee had explained an egalitarian judicial philosophy to him.

There's not one law for one race or another, there's not one law for one color or another, there's not one law for rich (and) a different one for poor, Leahy paraphrased her as saying, adding that pressure groups were spoiling for fight over her nomination.

Republicans will walk a fine line politically in taking on Sotomayor. Having lost the last two congressional elections, they want to expand what has been their shrinking party and do not want to offend Hispanics, a fast growing U.S. minority.

Sessions said told Sotomayor she would get a fair hearing and be treated respectfully.

She will be given an opportunity to answer any allegations out there, Sessions said, adding he was impressed by her background of academic and courtroom success after growing up in a New York City housing project.

I was most impressed with her resume and, of course, her life story is remarkable, Sessions said, adding her legal experience is a good background for any judge, particularly a Supreme Court judge.