The full Senate will finally take up the nomination of Supreme Court hopeful Sonia Sotomayor today, as lawmakers begin a highly orchestrated floor debate expected to be long on political posturing but short on substance or suspense.
Anyone looking for high drama or a nail-biter of a vote will likely be disappointed, as the outcome is all but guaranteed.
With almost all 60 Democrats and at least six Republicans backing her, Sotomayor is expect to be easily confirmed when the chamber votes Thursday, more than 71 days after President Barack Obama announced her nomination.
Thus far, a half-dozen Republicans — Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Dick Lugar (Ind.), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine) and Mel Martinez (Fla.) — have broken ranks with the rest of their party and announced they will vote for Sotomayor.
As is customary, nearly every Senator is expected to make remarks on Sotomayor’s nomination during the floor debate — although neither Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) nor Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) is expected to vote Thursday, let alone speak during the debate.
Although a few other GOP defections are possible, the only major question marks on the final tally come from Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Mark Begich (D). Murkowski, vice chairwoman of the Republican Policy Committee, has often charted an independent course from her party, and she could join Alexander as the only members of the GOP hierarchy to back Sotomayor’s nomination.
Begich, meanwhile, is one of a handful of Democratic moderates whom conservatives and the National Rifle Association have targeted as possible converts in the waning days of the confirmation process.
But the NRA’s efforts, despite the group’s considerable clout on Capitol Hill, have resulted in few successes on this issue.
For instance, the NRA had also targeted Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who like Murkowski has often demonstrated a willingness to break with party dogma. But despite pressure from the NRA and other organizations, Nelson announced Monday that he would vote for Sotomayor.
In an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star, Nelson argued that Sotomayor’s “record shows she is not an activist ... [and has] a great respect for the law.—
As for the floor “fight— itself, neither side is expecting major rhetorical fireworks. Democrats will stick to their proven script of touting Sotomayor’s personal history and professional résumé as a lawyer and federal judge in praising her nomination and explaining their decisions to back her. Democrats are also expected to make much of the fact that Sotomayor will become the first Latina, and only third woman and third minority, to serve on the Supreme Court.
Republicans, meanwhile, will continue to attack Sotomayor as a “judicial activist— and a purveyor of a liberal judicial philosophy out of step with mainstream thinking. However, unlike much of their previous rhetoric, which focused largely on Sotomayor’s public statements and speeches, the GOP will likely also weave in arguments about specific cases she has ruled on as a judge.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) provided something of a preview of the slightly modified Republican case on Monday when he announced his opposition to Sotomayor’s nomination.
While praising her personal history, McCain took Sotomayor to task for a string of speeches she has given over the years that conservatives claim clearly show she is a judicial activist.
But McCain also referenced decisions she has made first as a district judge and then as a member of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in making the case that Sotomayor adheres to an “anti-democratic attitude— when it comes to the role of the judiciary. He added that she lacks “common sense limitations— and “ultimately lacks a key qualification for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.—