- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Senate’s top Republican said Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor fails the test of impartiality despite her impressive background, while the chamber’s leading Democrat defended her Tuesday as a mainstream moderate.

Those comments came as the Senate prepared to debate the judge expected to be confirmed this week as the first Hispanic and third female justice.

Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada previewed their parties’ dueling arguments Tuesday over President Obama’s history-making nominee, who is expected to sail through the Senate with bipartisan support. Nearly three-quarters of Republican senators have lined up against Judge Sotomayor, but a handful are siding with the Democratic majority to support her.

“She’s developed a 17-year record as a moderate, mainstream judge,” said Mr. Reid, the majority leader. “I’m disappointed not more of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are likely to vote for this outstanding nominee.”

Mr. McConnell said the 55-year-old Bronx-born jurist is “is certainly a fine person with an impressive story and a distinguished background. But a judge must be able to check his or her personal or political agenda at the courtroom door and do justice evenhandedly…. It’s a test Judge Sotomayor does not pass.”

There’s so little doubt about the outcome that confirming Mr. Obama’s first high court choice didn’t even come up at the White House when senators met Mr. Obama for lunch to discuss their progress on the president’s top priorities, including health care and climate change legislation.

“I mean, this is not even an issue,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said of Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation as he returned from the midday gathering. “This one’s done.”

Judge Sotomayor is the daughter of Puerto Rican parents. She was raised in a South Bronx housing project and educated in the Ivy League before going on to success in the legal profession and then the federal bench. Mr. Obama chose her to replace retiring Justice David H. Souter, a liberal named by Republican President George H.W. Bush, and she’s not expected to alter the court’s ideological balance.

Some in the Republican Party have faced a tough call about the vote, torn between an impulse to please their conservative base by opposing her and a fear that doing so could alienate Hispanic voters.

The vast majority are lining up with their core supporters against Judge Sotomayor, despite her near certainty of being confirmed.

The decision was further complicated for some senators in both parties after the National Rifle Association announced it would downgrade senators who supported the nominee in its annual candidate ratings. That is thought to have prompted many Republicans who initially considered backing Judge Sotomayor to come out in opposition.

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