July 17, 2009 in Nation/World

Sotomayor clears hurdle

Republicans say they won’t block vote
Washington Post
 
Associated Press photo

Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., right, and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., talk during the Sotomayor hearing.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor won virtual assurance of rapid confirmation Thursday when Senate Republicans announced that they do not intend to block a vote that would make her the first Hispanic on the nation’s highest court.

Sotomayor’s path to becoming President Barack Obama’s first Supreme Court appointment was enhanced by a two-pronged strategy: During more than 15 hours of questions over three days from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, she revealed little about the type of justice she would be, declining to disclose her views on the most significant and polarizing legal matters working their way through the courts. In addition, she deflected critics’ allegations that her public speeches showed a bias based on her sex and ethnicity, assuring the committee she is a moderate jurist and not a liberal judicial activist.

By the time she stepped out of the witness chair, Sotomayor had earned the grudging respect of even conservatives on the committee who are not likely to support her. “Thank you for giving us such a cordial response, and I am mightily impressed,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

For a nomination that began with conservative commentators charging that the judge had made “racist” comments, Sotomayor wrapped up her appearance with a confident smile and thanked the senators for their courtesy.

“I have received all the graciousness and fair hearing that I could have asked for,” she said.

The committee has scheduled a Tuesday meeting to begin considering the nomination, with a formal vote likely the following week because Republicans expect to ask for extra time to review answers to written follow-up questions they will submit to her today. The committee’s vote serves as a recommendation for the rest of the Senate, which is likely to hold its final roll call on Sotomayor by Aug. 7.

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the panel’s ranking GOP member, told the judge that he would not support any effort to filibuster her nomination, ending any possible suspense over her fate, given the 60-40 split in the Senate in favor of Democrats.

With the threat of a filibuster removed, Sotomayor will need just a simple majority – 50 votes – to win confirmation.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has discussed supporting her, told Sotomayor that her “record as a judge has not been radical by any means.”

“You have been very reassuring here today and throughout this hearing that you’re going to try to understand the difference between judging and whatever political feelings you have about groups or gender,” he said.

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