Sotomayor wins 1st GOP support pledges

Judiciary panel likely to begin voting this month

By Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Jesse J. Holland
Associated Press / July 18, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor won her first public pledges of support yesterday from Senate Republicans, after a smooth performance at her confirmation hearings put her firmly on track to become the first Hispanic and third woman on the high court.

Richard Lugar of Indiana, the Senate’s most senior Republican; Mel Martinez of Florida, its lone Hispanic Republican; and Olympia Snowe of Maine announced they’d vote for Sotomayor, praising her qualifications and her testimony at four days of Judiciary Committee hearings this week.

“I was pleased that Judge Sotomayor repeatedly recognized in her responses this week that ‘the job of a judge is to apply the law’ rather than independently make policy, and that it is the law, rather than one’s own sympathies that ‘compels conclusions in cases,’ ’’ Snowe said in a statement.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, planned a speech Monday in which he’ll say the 55-year-old appeals court judge’s past statements demonstrate an “alarming lack of respect for the notion of equal justice,’’ and question her ability to separate her sympathies and prejudices from her decisions.

McConnell joins other GOP conservatives who are lining up firmly against Sotomayor, including Robert Bennett of Utah, who announced yesterday that he’ll vote no, citing her position on gun rights and comments he said indicate “a tendency toward judicial activism.’’

But with solid backing from Democrats, who enjoy a lopsided majority, and a growing number of Republicans, there’s virtually no doubt the judge will be confirmed as the 111th Supreme Court justice.

Republicans have said they won’t try to block or even delay a vote to confirm her, which is expected in early August. The Judiciary panel is likely to cast the first votes on Sotomayor’s nomination late this month, although Democrats were pushing for a committee vote as soon as Tuesday.

Republican-turned-Democratic Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a member of the committee who had hinted strongly that he would support Sotomayor, made it official yesterday with a statement in which he said he’d vote for her and urge colleagues to do the same.

Sotomayor “displayed intellect, restraint, and judicial demeanor’’ at her hearings, Specter said.

Three days of grueling questioning before the Judiciary panel gave Republicans no new ammunition to use against the nominee, the daughter of Puerto Rican parents who was raised in a South Bronx housing project, educated in the Ivy League, and rose through the legal ranks to spend 17 years on the federal bench.

Two Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas, came away calling most of her judicial record “mainstream,’’ although both said her rulings and her testimony were strikingly at odds with her past comments.