3 Republican Senators Announce Support of Sotomayor

Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, greets Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, greets Judge Sonia Sotomayor. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 18, 2009

Three Senate Republicans yesterday endorsed Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court, giving increased momentum to securing President Obama's choice a place on the high court by early August.

Sen. Mel Martinez (Fla.), former chairman of the Republican National Committee, joined veteran Sens. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.) and Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) in support of the first Hispanic nominated to the Supreme Court. The senators dismissed allegations from some of their GOP colleagues, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), that Sotomayor had shown herself to be a partial jurist because of speeches in which she said a "wise Latina" could be more likely to make better rulings than a white male judge.

"Judge Sotomayor is knowledgeable of the law, would be a fair and impartial judge, and seems to have a good understanding of the limited role the judiciary plays in our democracy," Martinez said in a statement.

None of the endorsements was particularly surprising; instead, the significance came through Martinez's and Lugar's standing. Lugar is the Senate's senior Republican, first elected in 1976, and he has long been a leader of the Foreign Relations Committee, while Martinez is the only Hispanic Republican in the Senate.

Snowe said Sotomayor "appears neither rigid nor dogmatic in her approach to the essential task of constitutional interpretation."

After completing four days of hearings on Thursday, the Judiciary Committee is expected to meet Tuesday to begin its consideration of Sotomayor. A formal vote on the committee's recommendation to the Senate is expected July 28, and the final confirmation vote is expected shortly thereafter. Republicans do not expect to mount a filibuster effort so, barring a surprise development, Sotomayor should be easily confirmed because the Democratic caucus holds 60 senators, who are all almost certain vote for her.

The GOP support for Sotomayor comes amid a continuing debate among Republican political strategists over her nomination. Some, including media strategist Mike Murphy, have cautioned that mounting a large battle over the first Hispanic nominee to the court could further alienate Hispanic voters, more than two-thirds of whom supported Obama over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in November.

Others, including former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, have urged opposition to Sotomayor as a way to rally the conservative base behind Republicans, particularly on gun-rights issues.

Some candidates for other offices used Thursday's conclusion of her confirmation hearings as an opportunity to appeal to Hispanic voters. Christopher Christie, the Republican nominee for New Jersey governor who served as the Bush administration's U.S. attorney in the Garden State, quickly announced his support, saying, "Qualified appointees should be confirmed and deserve bipartisan support."

But McConnell, who had hinted at his opposition in Senate floor speeches leading up to the hearings, issued a harsh verdict. He said her previous speeches were a more important barometer of her future rulings than what she told the Judiciary Committee.

"In her writings and in her speeches, Judge Sotomayor has repeatedly stated that a judge's personal experiences affect judicial outcomes. She has said her experiences will affect the facts that she chooses to see as a judge. . . . Taken together, these statements suggest not just a sense that impartiality is not possible, but that it's not even worth the effort," McConnell said in a statement.

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