Democrats Rally for Sotomayor

By Amy Goldstein and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 6, 2009

Senate Democrats on Wednesday sought to wrest political advantage from widespread Republican opposition to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, contending, as the chamber prepares to decide on her confirmation Thursday, that the GOP is perpetuating partisanship and thwarting the interests of Hispanic voters.

On the cusp of their first Supreme Court confirmation victory in 15 years, Democrats and their supporters brushed aside Republicans' arguments: that Sotomayor is a judge biased by her gender and ethnicity who has sometimes been on the wrong side of the law.

"To say you cannot vote for this qualified Latina sends a message to us, as a community, that we will not forget," Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said at a midday rally, referring to the three-quarters of Republican senators who have said they will vote against Sotomayor.

With the outcome of the Senate's vote preordained, senators of both political parties used a long day and night of debate over President Obama's first Supreme Court nominee to try to advance their larger goals.

Democrats, who hold a substantial Senate majority and are united behind the nominee, appeared at events on Capitol Hill with Latino and civil rights leaders. Republicans, anticipating defeat, were more muted off the Senate floor. But during the debate, GOP senators repeatedly emphasized their support for gun and private property rights -- and, in broader strokes, sought to deter Obama from choosing liberals to fill future court vacancies.

On Wednesday, Sens. Christopher S. Bond (Mo.) and Judd Gregg (N.H.) became the seventh and eighth Republicans to say they will support Sotomayor. Speaking on the Senate floor, Bond said Sotomayor "has accomplishments and qualities that have always meant Senate confirmation."

"There has been no significant finding against her. There has been no public uprising against her," Bond said. "I do not believe the Constitution tells me I should oppose her just because I disagree with her in some cases."

Sen. Mel Martinez (Fla.), who is the Senate's only Latino Republican and who has announced that he will vote for Sotomayor, speculated that Obama might nominate a more liberal candidate if there is another court opening. "I disagree with Judge Sotomayor about several issues . . . but probably fewer with her than some I might see in the future," Martinez said, calling her record "well within the mainstream of judicial thinking."

Such flashes of bipartisanship, however, were rare.

Senate Democrats are trying to lend pomp to their first Supreme Court confirmation since 1994, when the chamber approved President Bill Clinton's second and last nominee, Justice Stephen G. Breyer, with far less dissent. This time, Democratic leaders are expected to take the rare step of asking all senators to cast votes from their wooden desks on the Senate floor.

Sotomayor, 55, has been a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit for the past 11 years and before that spent six years as a federal trial judge. Following the lead of Obama, who nominated her in May, Senate Democrats emphasized her life story -- a child raised by a widowed mother in the South Bronx who rose through two Ivy League universities to become a Manhattan prosecutor and a partner at a New York law firm before joining the federal bench.

At a rally with leaders of various civil rights organizations, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a former prosecutor who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said: "Our Republican colleagues have missed a great opportunity today. We could all be celebrating the historic confirmation of the first Latino justice of the Supreme Court. Instead, Republicans are fighting for right-wing control of the court."

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