- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court on a near party-line vote of 13-6, with only Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, breaking ranks to join committee Democrats in support of the nominee.

The Bronx-born appeals court judge, 55, is on track to become the first Hispanic to join the nation’s high court following a floor debate and vote by the full Senate before Congress recesses Aug. 7.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid predicted after the committee vote that the judge would win a quick confirmation.

“If every Republican wanted to speak for an hour on her, I think we would hear a lot of the same thing; that’s 40 hours,” Mr. Reid said. “So that’s two days. When we get to her, we’re going to work right through, night and day, to finish.”

Public support for Judge Sotomayor has hovered around 50 percent, with the latest poll, from Zogby/O’Leary Report, finding 49 percent of those polled support her for the high court.

Still, Judge Sotomayor is expected to win broad support in the Senate, where no one in the 60-member Democratic caucus is expected to vote against her and five Republicans have broken ranks with their party leadership to endorse her.

Senate Democrats argued that Judge Sotomayor’s 17 years on the federal bench more than qualified her for the high court.

“It is troubling that colleagues seem to be looking for reasons outside of her record and posit that she is outside the mainstream,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

Republicans focused largely on Judge Sotomayor’s speeches, repeating concerns that her oft-cited comment that a “wise Latina woman” would make better judgments than a “white male” revealed her true judicial philosophy.

Sen. Herb Kohl, Wisconsin Democrat, lamented that the modern confirmation process, with heavy media coverage and millions of dollars spent by outside interest groups, makes it hard for nominees to stray from their careful scripts when going through the confirmation process.

Supreme Court nominees “have learned the path of least resistance is to limit their responses and quote in generalities,” Mr. Kohl said.

Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch was one of a number of Republican lawmakers who expressed concern about Judge Sotomayor’s stand on Second Amendment gun rights.

“In some of her most important cases, she gave short shrift to fundamental constitutional rights and, in my judgment, used inappropriate legal standards and did not properly apply precedent,” Mr. Hatch said.

Tensions between the senators occasionally rose Tuesday morning as they recounted the confirmation debate.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said Judge Sotomayor was targeted unfairly for the “wise Latina” remark, which was raised repeatedly in the Senate hearings and in the media debate over her selection.

“I hope someone was keeping track of how many times that was quoted during these hearings,” Mr. Durbin said.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, rejected Mr. Durbin’s characterization of the debate.

“I think it’s somewhat unfair to characterize us with a broad brush,” Mr. Coburn said.

In backing the nominee, South Carolina’s Mr. Graham said he empathized with the handful of committee Democrats who crossed the aisle to vote for nominees of past Republican administrations. He also predicted that Judge Sotomayor would not radically alter the balance of the power on the court in replacing retiring Justice David H. Souter, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush in 1990 who has allied mostly with the court’s liberal wing.

“There is not going to be a major shift in the balance of power here,” Mr. Graham said. “I have not seen this ‘activist’ that we all dread.”

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