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In the Loop: Guess the Vote on Sotomayor

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By Al Kamen
Monday, June 22, 2009

Let's face it: Barring some sensational disclosures, maybe a couple of felonies, there was never going to be much of a Senate battle over the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

But we sure didn't need former appeals court judge, solicitor general and law school dean Kenneth Starr's gratuitous endorsement of her nomination last week. Starr, a conservative icon for his role as special prosecutor in the Monica Lewinsky affair, said he "thinks very well" of Sotomayor and "supports her nomination" -- pretty much killing any remaining suspense.

In a statement issued by Pepperdine law school, Starr said he still wanted "a variety of issues" explored at her hearings next month.

So it's time to gin up a little excitement with the In the Loop Guess the Vote Contest. Simply guess the number of "yea" votes Sotomayor will receive for confirmation. The first 10 entrants with the correct number will win a coveted In the Loop T-shirt. The tiebreaker question, should that become necessary, will be to guess the date of the full Senate's vote on the nomination.

We had thought of asking for both the yeas and nays, but cooler heads said that would be too difficult to predict, because at least a couple of members might be too ill to vote. And you never know whether someone's going to get caught cheating on his wife and be unable to make it back to vote in time.

For guidance, depending on how the hearings go, there's been a predictable range in recent years on Supreme Court votes. For example, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. got 78 votes from a GOP-controlled Senate. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., on pretty much a straight party-line vote, got 58.

The only interesting question left is how many GOP votes Sotomayor will pick up. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), for example, declined to even meet with her last week, his spokesman saying Inhofe's mind was made up to vote against her because he had done so in 1998, when she was named to the appeals court, and because of her "deference to international laws instead of the U.S. Constitution."

But other Republicans are up for grabs. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who's facing a tough gubernatorial primary next year against the incumbent Republican governor (or president, if Texas secedes), Rick Perry, might ponder the implications of her vote in a state where Latinos make up about 20 percent of the vote and African Americans around 10 percent.

So how many senators will vote for Sotomayor? And on what day? Send your prediction -- only one per entrant -- to guessthevote@washpost.com or In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

Winners will receive one of those fabulous Loop T-shirts and the bragging rights that go with them. Get those votes in quickly: The deadline is the close of the day, as in midnight, on Wednesday.

BABY STEPS ON DIVERSITY

A National Journal study of 366 top Obama administration officials has found that 52 percent are white males, down from 59 percent at this point in President George W. Bush's first term. Eleven percent of those officials are African Americans, compared with 10 percent under Bush. The Journal assessment, out today, said 8 percent of Obama's top folks are Hispanic, compared with 6 percent for Bush. Asian Americans totaled 4 percent of Obama's team and 3 percent of Bush's, according to the Journal.

Overall, given the demographics of the Obama vote, the percentages don't differ all that much between the two administrations, at least so far. The study also found that 83 percent of Obama's officials had government experience, and 71 percent at the federal level -- figures in the same range as Bush's picks.


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