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The confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor have become, in a small but significant way, a referendum on the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican who took over the post from Pennsylvania Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter, is under intense pressure to land blows on Sotomayor without offending Hispanic voters. It’s a tough task, made all the more difficult by Sessions’ history of racially insensitive positions and statements.

So far the results have been mixed. Over at Fox News, host Chris Wallace and his co-panelist applauded the Alabaman for his questioning of Sotomayor, in which he honed in on her past statements about race and her role in Ricci v. DeStefano (the New Haven firefighter case). While other GOPers (notably Utah Sen. Orin Hatch) got stuck in the legal weeds, Sessions tried to draw blood, the Fox panel argued.

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