Sotomayor Vote Bodes Ill For Future High Court Nominees

July 29, 2009|By David G. Savage and Richard Simon | David G. Savage and Richard Simon,Tribune Newspapers

WASHINGTON - -The near-party line vote Tuesday to approve Judge Sonia Sotomayor in the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a message that Supreme Court nominees cannot be assured of winning support in the Senate even if they have solid legal credentials and a moderate record.

It also sent a warning that a more liberal nominee from President Barack Obama could provoke an all-out confirmation battle in the Senate.

By a 13-6 vote, the Democrats and a lone Republican sent her nomination to the full Senate, where she is expected to win confirmation next week.

Republicans said they had succeeded in setting a conservative standard for judging.

"This confirmation process has, in many ways, been a repudiation of activist legal thought," said Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican. "It will now be harder to nominate activist judges."

To the surprise of some political analysts, six of the seven Republicans on the panel - all but South Carolina's Lindsey Graham - voted against confirming the woman who would be the first Latino to sit on the high court. They included Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona, who represent states with large Latino populations.

The votes show that the Supreme Court carries a special importance for the base of both political parties. Three years ago, all of the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee opposed President George W. Bush's choice of Samuel A. Alito Jr. for the high court, even though he, like Sotomayor, had a long and solid record.

In recent weeks, advocates of gun rights and opponents of abortion have pressed senators to vote no on Sotomayor.

"The Republicans were more nervous about giving Obama a big victory than in further eroding their diminished support among Hispanics," said Donald F. Kettl, dean of the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy. "The Sotomayor vote signals that [Obama] needs to be very, very careful about going any further left with the next nominee."

Graham, the lone Republican to break ranks, said Sotomayor deserved to be confirmed because she had been a good judge. He praised Obama for choosing a Latina to serve on the court. "America has changed for the better with her selection," he said.

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