Rather than being overjoyed by this nomination (which could have just as easily come from one of their own presidents), Repulbcans decided to launch a smear campaign. They had their own reasons for doing so, and had made them plain before the nominee had even been announced. As Media Matters noted at the time,
"According to reports in The New York Times and Politico, conservatives and Republicans have said they intend to use the confirmation process to 'help refill depleted coffers and galvanize a movement demoralized by Republican electoral defeats'; 'build the conservative movement'; provide 'a massive teaching moment for America'; 'prepare the great debate with a view toward Senate elections in 2010 and the presidency'; and 'hurt conservative Democrats'--all motivations that have nothing to do with criteria senators should consider in exercising their constitutional responsibility to provide 'advice and consent' on judicial nominations. Indeed, conservative activist and law professor Robert George reportedly acknowledged, 'For [the conservative base], this is about the future of the Republican Party, not who is going to sit on the Supreme Court,' and another conservative activist, Manuel Miranda, reportedly said of the confirmation process: 'It isn't just about the nominee.'"The Republicans were trying to use it to rally their troops and the mission was to label Sotomayor as some kind of wild-eyed radical.
The problem they ran into, of course, is that Sotomayor isn't some kind of wild-eyed radical whose record can be used to rally their troops. Indeed, the biggest argument one can muster against her is the one they can't touch--that she's just like them and is being nominated to a court that is already just like them and has been for years. With Sotomayor, they had one of the longest records as a judge of any Supreme Court nominee in recent memory--literally thousands of cases on which she's sat. The strategy that emerged was to portray her as an Hispanic-supremacist racist. With such a massive record from which to choose, the full extent of their "evidence" for this was a single court case--one relating to a test for firefighters in New Haven that excluded racial minorities--and a tiny handful of comments Sotomayor had made in speeches outside of court, comments they'd taken out of context in order to make them sound like exactly the opposite of what she'd actually said.
It would be difficult to understate how excruciating this became--the same small set of questions from practically every Republican present. The committee's chief Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, emerged as Sotomayor's loudest interrogator, the racist charge being his line of attack. Unmentioned in virtually any press report was the fact that this forthright stand against the racism of the first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee in U.S. history was being staged by a man who was, himself, denied a slot on the judiciary two decades ago because of his own racism.
Sotomayor herself proved to be a very dull witness; bloodless, unemotional and patient to the point of being rather boring. The hearings passed without a single spark to make it stick in the brain in the years and decades to come. It's difficult to believe the conservatives got much use of the hearings. It's also difficult to believe the country will get much use of the nominee when she's confirmed.
 And, in fact, it had; Sotomayor began her rise through the federal judiciary with an appointment by George Bush the Senior.
 Nevertheless, the U.S. conservative elite fell in lockstep in echoing the "racist" charges--it could be heard everywhere from Glenn Beck to the Buchanan siblings (Pat Buchanan being one of the worst racists among that elite)
 Also left on the cutting-room floor is the fact that Sessions had, some years ago, voted to confirm Sotomayor, this dreadful racist, to the federal bench.