Old Supporters Now Sotomayor Foes

Some Republicans Change Their Minds on Nominee

Posted July 17, 2009 at 5:56pm

Sen. Bob Bennett (Utah) announced Friday that he would vote against Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, becoming the first Republican to oppose her ascension to the high court who supported her nomination to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals just over a decade ago.

Bennett’s announcement came on the heels of Sotomayor’s Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, which brought few fireworks and all but assured her installment as the first Latina on the court. The four days of testimony and questioning ended with ranking member Jeff Sessions (Ala.) making plain that GOP Senators would not try to filibuster her nomination.

Still, not every Republican is lining up to confirm her, including Bennett.

Sotomayor enjoyed significant bipartisan Senate support for her appointment to the New York-based federal appeals court. Seven sitting GOP Senators — Bennett, Olympia Snowe (Maine), Dick Lugar (Ind.), Susan Collins (Maine), Judd Gregg (N.H.), Thad Cochran (Miss.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) — voted in favor.

So far, Bennett is the only one of the seven to indicate he will oppose her Supreme Court nomination; Snowe and Lugar joined fellow Republican Sen. Mel Martinez (Fla.) on Friday and endorsed her installment.

Bennett cited a number of issues including Second Amendment gun rights for deciding to vote against Sotomayor and said the decision was a difficult one. “This has been a close call for me because I support the president’s constitutional prerogative to nominate justices and I am reluctant to substitute my judgment for his. However, in the end, I have decided that I must vote no,— Bennett said in a statement.

As expected, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also announced Friday he would oppose the nomination.

Lugar said that following a review of her record and testimony to the Judiciary Committee, he decided to back Sotomayor. Like Bennett and McConnell, Lugar is not a member of the Judiciary panel, which wrapped up the hearings Thursday night.

“I have listened to the testimony of Judge Sonia Sotomayor before the Senate Judiciary Committee, carefully reviewed her public service record and reviewed recommendations from Indiana constituents and colleagues here in the Senate,— Lugar said.

“Judge Sotomayor is clearly qualified to serve on the Supreme Court and … I will vote to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to serve as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States,— Lugar said.

Although Lugar, Snowe and Martinez were the first Republican Senators to officially back the nomination, at least one other Republican, Judiciary member Lindsey Graham (S.C.), all but endorsed Sotomayor during Thursday’s final day of hearings. After emerging as one of her fiercest critics, Graham used his final question period to praise her record and argue that she is not an activist judge.

The Senate isn’t expected to take up the nomination until later this month or early August. Every Democrat is expected to vote to confirm her, and Republicans say as many as a dozen on their side might give her the nod.

Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) on Friday became one of the first Democrats to formalize his support for President Barack Obama’s first Supreme Court pick. Specter, who before bolting the GOP in April was the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, was also an aggressive questioner of Sotomayor during the hearings, pressing her with detailed questions of legal theory and precedent.

Meanwhile, following nearly three days of questions, the Judiciary Committee completed its work with a series of witnesses offering testimony, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Frank Ricci, a New Haven, Conn., firefighter who was at the center of an affirmative action case on which Sotomayor ruled as a jurist on the 2nd Circuit Court.

Judiciary Republicans had hoped Ricci’s testimony would help put a “human face— on the case that pitted white firefighters against the city for throwing out a promotions test on which minority candidates did not fare well. Sotomayor, as part of the circuit court, ruled in favor of the city in the case, which later went to the Supreme Court, where the ruling was overturned.

Instead of the “Joe the Plumber— moment some conservatives may have hoped for, Ricci provided testimony on his work as a firefighter and the case but explicitly avoided making attacks on Sotomayor.

When asked by Specter if he wanted to make a statement about her qualifications, Ricci simply said, “That’s beyond my legal expertise. … I am not an attorney or a legal scholar. I simply welcome an invitation by the United States Senate to come here today.—

Judiciary Republicans are expected Tuesday to formally request a one-week postponement of a committee vote on the nomination. Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Thursday he hoped to hold the vote that day, but under Judiciary’s rules, any member can ask for the delay.