Sonia Sotomayor is poised to make history as theSupreme Court‘s first Hispanic justice despite staunch opposition from Republicans who call her ill-suited for the bench, a pending victory for Democrats who believe her confirmation will pay off politically.
The Senate is ready to vote Thursday to confirm President Barack Obama‘s high court nominee, a 55-year-old appeals court judge of Puerto Rican descent who was raised in a New York City housing project, educated in the Ivy League and served 17 years on the federal bench.
Sotomayor picked up more GOP support Wednesday even as nearly three-quarters of the Senate’s 40 Republicans said they would vote “no” and contended she would bring liberal bias and personal sympathies to her decisions. With all Democrats expected to back her, she has more than enough votes to be confirmed, barring a surprise turn of events, in one of the Senate’s last actions before it breaks for the summer.
Democrats, praising her as a well-qualified judge and a mainstream moderate, are warning Republicans that they risk a backlash from Hispanic voters — a growing part of the electorate — if they oppose her. But Republicans bristle at the suggestion, noting that Democrats used extraordinary measures several years ago to block the confirmation of GOP-nominated Miguel Estrada, a Honduran-born attorney, to the federal bench.
GOP senators say their opposition to Sotomayor is based on her speeches and record, pointing to a few rulings in which they argue she showed disregard for gun rights, property rights and job discrimination claims by white employees. They also cite comments she’s made about the role that a judge’s background and perspective can play, especially a 2001 speech in which she said she hoped a “wise Latina” would usually make better decisions than a white man.
Republicans have been particularly critical of Sotomayor’s position on the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. She was part of a panel that ruled this year that the amendment doesn’t limit state actions — only federal ones — in keeping with previous Supreme Court precedent. But gun rights supporters said her court shouldn’t have called the issue “settled law,” and they criticized her for refusing during her confirmation hearings to go beyond what the high court has said and declare that the Second Amendment applies to the states.
The National Rifle Association is strongly opposing her and has threatened to downgrade any senator who votes to confirm Sotomayor in its closely watched candidate ratings. The warning has made little impact on Democrats, many of whom have rallied behind the judge despite their perfect or near-perfect ratings from theNRA, but it may have influenced some Republicans who were initially considered possible supporters but have since announced their opposition, citing gun rights as a key reason.
Just a handful of Republicans are backing Sotomayor, and most of them say that while they disagree with some of her views and rulings, they believe she’s well-qualified. Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri said partisanship has no place in debates over judges.
“There’s been no significant finding against her, there’s been no public uprising against her,” Bond said. “I will support her, I’ll be proud for her, the community she represents and the American dream she shows is possible.”
Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., also said he’d vote for her, adding that politicizing the confirmation process — as he argued Democrats did when they blocked GOP nominees in the past — “undermines the public’s views of our courts and the integrity of our judicial system.”
Obama named Sotomayor to replace retiring Justice David Souter, a liberal named by a Republican president, and she’s not expected to alter the court’s ideological balance.