Sotomayor expected to be confirmed
By David G. Savage
WASHINGTON — Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, is expected to win approval Tuesday in a near-party-line vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, reflecting the partisan divide on judicial nominees that has taken hold in recent years.
All 12 Democrats on the panel have voiced support for the New York appellate judge, while all but one of the seven Republicans have indicated they will oppose her.
The lineup signals Sotomayor will win confirmation in the Senate by a comfortable margin and become the first Hispanic justice, but she will do so without much Republican support.
The full Senate is expected to take up her nomination next week.
The lone exception to the party-line vote in the Judiciary Committee figures to be Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Last week, the Republican said he would vote to confirm Sotomayor, even though he assumed she would be "left of center" on the court.
"Elections have consequences," Graham said last week, insisting a president’s well-qualified court nominees deserve to be confirmed. He noted, however, that then-Sen. Obama and most of the Democrats did not follow that standard with President George W. Bush’s two Supreme Court nominees.
In 2006, Justice Samuel Alito, an appeals court judge considered well-qualified, won recommendation on a 10-8 vote in the Judiciary Committee when Republicans held a slim majority. He was confirmed by the Senate in a 58-42 vote, with only four Democrats in favor.
A few months earlier, Chief Justice John Roberts won a 13-8 vote in the committee, with only three of eight Democrats supporting him.
He won confirmation in the Senate by a 78-22 margin, with half the Democrats voting for him and half against. Obama voted against Roberts and Alito.
Two veteran Republicans, Sens. Charles Grassley of Iowa and Orrin Hatch of Utah, said their votes against Sotomayor will be their first "no" votes on a Supreme Court nominee, and they pointed to changed standards in the Senate.
"I think it’s a whole new ballgame, a lot different than I approached it with Ginsburg and Breyer," Grassley said last month. He was referring to President Bill Clinton’s two Supreme Court picks: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was confirmed on a 96-3 vote in 1993, and Justice Stephen Breyer, who was confirmed on an 87-9 vote in 1994.
As expected, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the panel’s ranking Republican, announced he will vote against Sotomayor. He was her sharpest questioner during the hearings. Despite her pledge to closely follow the law, Sessions said he believed she will not "resist the siren call of judicial activism."
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., did not announce his vote, but he issued a statement sharply criticizing Sotomayor after her Senate hearings.
The National Rifle Association and the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life also urged senators to vote "no" on Sotomayor.
Before this decade, Supreme Court justices who won confirmation usually had the backing of most of the Senate. Justices John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy all won confirmation by unanimous votes. Sotomayor would replace Justice David Souter, who was confirmed by a 90-9 vote in 1990.
The notable exception among the veteran members of the high court is Justice Clarence Thomas, who was confirmed by a 52-48 vote in 1991.