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Senate Republicans Say They Won't Block Vote on Sotomayor Confirmation

Judge Sonia Sotomayor was sworn in as a Justice of the Supreme Court on August 8, making her the first Latina and third woman to serve on the nation's highest court. Though Sotomayor faced intense questioning from Republicans, the Senate approved her nomination by a wide margin.

Conservative activists were continuing to try to gin up opposition. Moments after Sotomayor concluded her testimony, the National Rifle Association said it was dissatisfied with her responses about the Second Amendment and said it would oppose her confirmation. Ralph Reed, a GOP strategist, issued a memo advising Republicans to vote against Sotomayor and make "her an issue in key races next year," focusing on her rulings on gun rights.

Other Republican strategists have questioned the wisdom of such a strategy, saying it could alienate Hispanic voters, an emerging bloc that tilted heavily toward Obama and Democrats last fall.

Once the outcome of the committee's pending deliberations and vote were no longer in doubt, Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) allowed Republican members three rounds of questioning. The last round was more about lobbying for specific pet issues than trying to elicit new information.

Throughout the questioning, Sotomayor, like previous nominees, deflected any questions that might give clues to future rulings.

Committee members found that frustrating at times. "You know, the test is not whether Judge Sonia Sotomayor is intelligent. You are," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.). "The test is not whether we like you. I think, speaking personally, I think we all do. The test is not even whether we admire you or we respect you, although we do admire you and respect what you've accomplished.

"The test is really: What kind of justice will you be if confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States?"

Sotomayor replied: "Look at my decisions for 17 years and note that, in every one of them, I have done what I say that I so firmly believe in. I prove my fidelity to the law, the fact that I do not permit personal views, sympathies or prejudices to influence the outcome."

In their final questioning, Republicans focused on issues important to their conservative base: same-sex marriage, gun control, campaign finance reform, abortion.

Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz), the first Republican to question Sotomayor yesterday, renewed the GOP's criticism of her role in a discrimination case involving Connecticut firefighters. He challenged her assertion that she and two other judges on an appeals court panel had been bound by legal precedent in their ruling in Ricci v. DeStefano.

The ruling, which the Supreme Court recently reversed, has been one of the GOP's central lines of attack on the nominee all week. Sotomayor and two colleagues on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit held that the city of New Haven was justified when it dropped a promotions test for firefighters after only white candidates and a small number of Hispanics -- but no African Americans -- would be eligible for advancement.

The lower courts held that the city was justified in scuttling the test results because of past rulings that tests with disparate outcomes for minorities could be a form of unintended discrimination, and would open the city to lawsuits from minorities.

But the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that the city's actions violated the portion of the same civil rights act that outlaws discrimination on the basis of race.

Kyl's quick return to the case yesterday morning also served as a prelude to a moment of drama in the afternoon, when Frank Ricci appeared before the committee as one of the public witnesses invited by the GOP.

Ricci was one of more than 30 witnesses, supporting the judge and opposing her, who testified after Sotomayor left the room. They included David Cone, a former major league baseball player who praised her role in ending a 1990s baseball strike; a leader of the antiabortion movement; and former FBI director Louis J. Freeh, who recalled helping her as a federal district judge in New York when she first joined the bench.

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) told the panel that he first recommended her nomination several months ago, before Justice David H. Souter announced his retirement, after a White House meeting with Obama on an unrelated subject.

"She is an independent jurist who does not fit squarely into an ideological box," Bloomberg said, echoing a refrain the nominee trumpeted all week.

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