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Previous GOP Senate Support for Sotomayor Not Assured

While seven Senate Republicans voted for Judge Sonia Sotomayor to become a federal appeals court judge in 1998, GOP aides warned Tuesday that her record on the circuit court and public statements could make them think again.

GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Bennett and Orin Hatch of Utah, Thad Cochran (Miss.), Judd Gregg (N.H.) and Dick Lugar (Ind.), as well as Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), who at the time was a Republican, all voted to install Sotomayor on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

But since that vote, Sotomayor has been involved in a number of decisions and has made statements that Republicans say they will closely parse to determine whether to support her nomination to the high court. Sotomayor, 54, was tapped by President Barack Obama earlier Tuesday to fill the vacancy by retiring Justice David Souter.

For instance, during a panel discussion at Duke University in 2005, Sotomayor noted that in many cases the “Court of Appeals is where policy is made” — a position that Republicans have targeted as “judicial activism.” Although Sotomayor went on to say that “I am not promoting it, I’m not advocating it,” the clip of her speech is already making the rounds on conservative blogs and will likely figure heavily into the opposition against her nomination.

Similarly, her involvement in a controversial civil rights case now before the Supreme Court could also provide Republicans who voted for her in 1998 enough room to now oppose her Supreme Court nomination.

In Ricci v. DeStefano, Sotomayor supported the city of New Haven’s decision to reject the results of its firefighter promotion test because almost no minorities qualified for a higher rank.

Republicans also pointed out that previous support for a judicial nominee to a lower federal court spot doesn’t necessarily carry over to the Supreme Court. They argued that Senate Democrats didn’t consider previous support for now Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts to amount to an automatic ‘yes’ vote to put them on the high court.

In both cases, a majority of the Democrats who had voted for Alito’s and Roberts’ nominations to lower federal judgeships reversed course when they came up for a vote for a Supreme Court slot.

Like Senate Democrats in 2005 “who had unanimously supported Justices Alito and Roberts’ previous nominations, Senate Republicans will also reevaluate this nominee’s record,” a senior GOP leadership aide said.

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