Some of the same Republican senators who helped put Sonia Sotomayor on the federal appeals bench a decade ago say they will closely re-examine her qualifications and character now that she has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Not only is the high court a more powerful post, but Judge Sotomayor’s record of rulings and remarks since ascending to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1998 has given pause to some one-time Republican supporters.
“Judge Sotomayor is today nominated to a different court than she was in 1998,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, told The Washington Times. “Her record today includes more than 10 years as an appeals court judge; her record in 1998 included five years as a trial court judge. My objective will be the same today as it was in 1998 while I review her current record.”
Mr. Hatch said his confirmation vote in 1998 was based on Judge Sotomayor’s actual record and he will take the same approach now. “I prefer real decisions to hypothetical ones,” he said.
Mr. Hatch is one of seven Republicans currently in the Senate who voted to confirm Judge Sotomayor for the appeals court in 1998. Of the seven, only Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine enthusiastically embraced her nomination to the Supreme Court, calling her a “well-qualified woman.”
Another Republican who supported her in 1998, Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, refused to tip his hand on the new Sotomayor confirmation vote. “He is traveling and does not have a statement,” Lugar spokesman Mark Hayes said.
The others, including Mrs. Snowe, called for thorough scrutiny of Judge Sotomayor’s record.
It would not be the first time senators changed their mind about a judge.
Robert H. Bork’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit was confirmed in 1982 by a voice vote. Five years later, his nomination to the Supreme Court was shot down in a 42-58 vote.
In an interview with Fox News, Mr. Hatch spelled out his new questions about President Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee.
“I’m concerned about whether she’s going to abide by the rule of law and … what her judicial philosophy is,” Mr. Hatch said. “She said some other things that have me a little bit concerned and, frankly, a great deal concerned.”
Among his newfound concerns, Mr. Hatch pointed to Judge Sotomayor’s widely cited remark in Berkeley, Calif., in 2002 that “a wise Latina woman” is “more often than not” a better judge than a white man, and her comment at Duke University in 2005 that the “Court of Appeals is where policy is made.”
He has also pointed to an article Judge Sotomayor wrote in 1996 - two years before he voted to confirm her to the appeals court - in which she endorsed “legal realism” and a “legal system capable of fluidity and pliancy.”
But Mr. Hatch added that he did not regret his 1998 vote supporting Judge Sotomayor.
Sen. Susan Collins, who also backed Judge Sotomayor for the appeals court, said she was reserving judgment on her nomination to the Supreme Court. She said every nominee to the highest court deserved “fierce scrutiny.”
“As always in making my decisions on judicial appointees, I will evaluate the nominee’s integrity, temperament, professional qualifications and accomplishments, and respect for the rule of law and precedents,” the Maine Republican said.