- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 18, 2009

Republican senators began lining up Friday to vote for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, praising her unflappable performance at her confirmation hearings.

Even Former House Speaker and conservative stalwart Newt Gingrich, who initially attacked Judge Sotomayor’s “wise Latina woman” remark as “racist,” softened his resistance.

Mr. Gingrich called the judge he saw testify this week “more moderate” than the one presented in her speeches, but told the right-leaning American Legislative Exchange Council that it would take years to see her true colors as a jurist.

Moderate Sens. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and retiring Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida became the first Republicans to publicly pledge to vote for Judge Sotomayor.

“Given her judicial record and her testimony this week, it is my determination that Judge Sotomayor is well-qualified to serve as associate justice of the United States Supreme Court,” said Mr. Martinez, the Senate’s lone Hispanic Republican.

President Obama’s first pick for the high court is expected to win quick confirmation before Congress recesses in August. Judge Sotomayor, 55, would be the first Hispanic to serve on the nation’s high court.

Still, she is likely to have trouble clearing a high bar set by one of her home-state senators, New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer, who said she would receive more support than Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. did in 2005.

Justice Roberts won the support of 78 senators in his bid for the high court.

Winning the support of at least 19 Senate Republicans could be tough for Judge Sotomayor and the Obama administration.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, said Friday he plans to vote against Judge Sotomayor, as did Utah Republican Robert F. Bennett, who is facing a field of primary challengers in the 2010 Senate race.

Judge Sotomayor wrapped up her fourth and final day of confirmation hearings Thursday with continued skepticism from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Republicans about her stance on hot-button issues like guns and abortion rights.

She asserted that her personal views and sympathies do not influence her judicial decision making. She also said she had been misunderstood and regretted saying in speeches beginning in 2001 that a “wise Latina woman” would tend to reach a better conclusion than a “white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, said his colleagues would not mount a filibuster or attempt to block Judge Sotomayor.

The committee scheduled a vote for Tuesday, but that is likely to be delayed a week.

Prior to the contentious votes on President George W. Bush’s appointees, Supreme Court candidates were frequently confirmed with unanimous or near-unanimous votes.

President Bill Clinton’s two picks for the high court both won broad support. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed with a 96-3 vote, and Justice Stephen G. Breyer was approved 89-7.

Retired Justice David H. Souter, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush, won his seat on a 90-9 vote. But Justice Clarence Thomas, whose confirmation hearings were beset by conduct accusations and opposition from minority groups, was confirmed on a razor-thin margin: 52-48.

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