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Senate Confirms Sonia Sotomayor for Supreme Court
The debate's final moments saw Leahy and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the committee's ranking member, as well as the two party leaders, Sens. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), revisiting many of the same themes that have been debated since Obama nominated her to the Supreme Court on May 26.
Throughout the three days of debate, GOP senators repeatedly emphasized their support for gun and private property rights. In broader strokes, they sought to deter Obama from choosing liberals to fill future court vacancies, particularly anyone who might publicly embrace an "empathy standard."
"At her hearings, Judge Sotomayor was quick, even eager, to repudiate this so-called empathy standard," McConnell said. "But her writings reflect strong sympathy for it. Indeed, they reflect a belief not just that impartiality is not possible, but that it's not even worth the effort."
In a sign of the increasing partisan tension to battles over Supreme Court nominations, the 31 Republican votes against Sotomayor far outnumbered the GOP opposition to the Clinton administration's Supreme Court justices in the early 1990s, Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.
But it was a similar to the level of Democratic opposition to George W. Bush's nominees earlier this decade: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. received 22 "no" votes from Democrats in 2005, while Associate Justice Samuel Alito received more than 40 "no" votes from Democrats in 2006.
Many Republicans cited concern about three of Sotomayor's judicial opinions that had figured prominently in her confirmation hearings before the Judiciary Committee: a discrimination case involving New Haven, Conn., firefighters that recently was overturned by the Supreme Court, a case addressing the Second Amendment right to bear arms and one about property rights.
They focused, too, on her speeches in which she often said that "a wise Latina" judge would reach better decisions than a white male judge -- a statement that Sotomayor characterized during her hearings as an unfortunate "rhetorical flourish."
Thursday morning, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) gave a somber speech outlining his opposition based on those speeches and a couple of rulings in cases involving affirmative action and gun rights.
It was the first time Hatch, elected in 1976 and a past chairman of the Judiciary Committee, opposed a Supreme Court nominee. "I am very, very concerned about this nomination. I feel very badly that I have to vote negatively," he said.