Sotomayor Vote Shows Partisanship Still Alive and Well

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 28, 2009; 7:01 PM

President Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court accomplished only part of his goal of changing the judicial confirmation process. He managed to lower the temperature of the debate without materially reducing partisan polarization.

Tuesday's 13 to 6 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee brought Sotomayor one step closer to a seat on the high court and continued what has been a confirmation process utterly lacking in drama or suspense. Yet only one Republican, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), broke party lines in the vote, joining with the 12 Democrats on the panel in voting for Sotomayor.

Two notable dissenters were Utah's Orrin Hatch and Iowa's Charles Grassley. Both have records of supporting Supreme Court nominees, offered up by Democratic and Republican presidents alike, dating back many years. Their votes foreshadow what is likely to be solid Republican opposition to the first Hispanic and third female nominated to the Supreme Court.

The confirmation process has lacked suspense for several reasons. With a 60 to 40 Democratic advantage in the Senate, Sotomayor's confirmation was assured from the start. There was less suspense also because her joining the court would likely have no significant impact on its ideological balance. In replacing Justice David Souter, she will fit comfortably into the court's liberal bloc, not move the court leftward.

The process also lacked drama or fireworks because Republicans were wary of launching attacks against a Latino woman. Most went out of their way to compliment her, to praise her personal story and her accomplishments, to talk about how much they liked her personally. Their disagreements were stated respectfully.

There is some political risk for the Republicans for their near-universal opposition to a Latino nominee, given the reverses the party has suffered in the past four years among this important and growing political constituency. But most Republicans have concluded that those risks are manageable.

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