Democrats Praise, Republicans Withhold Judgment on Sotomayor

Posted May 26, 2009 at 10:52am

Senate Democrats on Tuesday quickly rallied around President Barack Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for a spot on the Supreme Court, while Republicans largely withheld early judgment.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) hailed the selection as historic. “Her record is exemplary. Judge Sotomayor’s nomination is an historic one, and when confirmed she will become the first Hispanic Justice, and just the third woman to sit on the nation’s highest court,— Leahy, whose panel has jurisdiction over the nomination, said in a statement.

Likewise, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) called the current 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals judge highly qualified.

“I supported Judge Sotomayor’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1998 and from all accounts, she is a highly qualified and very experienced judge. Judge Sotomayor’s nomination marks a historic moment for our nation. She is the first Hispanic-American to be nominated to our nation’s highest court, and if confirmed, she would be just the third woman to serve on the court.—

But just as Democrats rushed to embrace Sotomayor’s nomination, Republicans, by and large, tried to avoid making any early judgments.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, for instance, said, “Republicans look forward to learning more about federal appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s thoughts on the importance of the Supreme Court’s fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law. … Republicans will reserve judgment on Sonia Sotomayor until there has been a thorough and thoughtful examination of her legal views.—

Similarly, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Republicans will withhold judgment on the nomination until the confirmation process starts. Yet he suggested that Republicans will be looking into how Sotomayor’s personal beliefs relate to her approach to the law.

“Senate Republicans will treat Judge Sotomayor fairly. But we will thoroughly examine her record to ensure she understands that the role of a jurist in our democracy is to apply the law even-handedly, despite their own feelings or personal or political preferences,— McConnell said in a statement.

McConnell also called on Democrats to provide adequate time to vet the nomination, saying that he expects Democrats to “ensure there is adequate time to prepare for this nomination, and a full and fair opportunity to question the nominee and debate her qualifications.—

At least one Republican, however, has already praised Obama’s selection of Sotomayor. In a statement, moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) stressed the historic nature of the pick, as well as Sotomayor’s qualifications. Snowe had urged Obama to tap a female for the vacancy being left by retiring Justice David Souter.

“Indisputably, this is an historic selection, as Sonia Sotomayor is just the third woman to be nominated to The Court and the first Hispanic American. I commend President Obama for nominating a well-qualified woman, as I urged him to do during a one-on-one meeting on a variety of issues in the Oval Office earlier this month,— Snowe said.

With a 59-seat majority and the support of moderate Republicans like Snowe, Senate Democrats are expected to move Sotomayor through the chamber fairly smoothly. Congress is looking to confirm her nomination before the August recess.

Some conservatives, however, wasted no time before attacking the nomination.

Of particular concern to conservatives is a recent 2nd Circuit Court ruling requiring officials in New Haven, Conn., to rework their firefighter aptitude tests because no black candidates had passed them.

Wendy Long, counsel for the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, argued Tuesday that the case showed a lack of respect for the firefighters who were killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“On September 11, America saw firsthand the vital role of America’s firefighters in protecting our citizens. They put their lives on the line for her and the other citizens of New York and the nation. But Judge Sotomayor would sacrifice their claims to fair treatment in employment promotions to racial preferences and quotas. The Supreme Court is now reviewing that decision,— Long said in a statement.