WASHINGTON – A key Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Wednesday he would vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, potentially clearing the way for several other Republicans to support the New York federal appeals judge.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a speech on the Senate floor that while he believes Sotomayor’s record is “left of center,” she is not “someone who under the robe is an activist.”
That, of course, is the label that some in the GOP have been trying to affix to Sotomayor since she was nominated to the high court in May. Last week during her confirmation hearings, several Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee pointed to Sotomayor’s now-infamous “wise Latina” speech and other remarks and warned that she would favor disadvantaged groups while on the bench and could not be counted on to remain impartial.
During that fray, Graham stood out among his party in his inclination to support Sotomayor, saying that presidents deserve deference on their choices for the court. He said as much Wednesday. “I would not have chosen her if I had made this choice as president, but I understand why President Obama did,” Graham said. “Elections matter.”
Sotomayor, 55, is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit and was named by President Barack Obama to replace the retiring Justice David Souter. If confirmed, she would be the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court.
Graham’s announcement may have consequences as well. Had he gone the other way, it would have signaled that Republicans were gearing up for as close to a party-line vote on the nomination as achievable. But his support ensures that she will be voted out of the Judiciary Committee next week with some bipartisan backing – which would provide some political cover for others in the Republican caucus who decide to vote for her. Her confirmation appears virtually certain, as Democrats and allies hold a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate.
That basic math has shifted the focus to whether Sotomayor will collect a substantial number of GOP votes. Such an outcome would bolster the White House’s contention that she is a centrist, “mainstream” judge.
Already, four other GOP senators have announced their support for Sotomayor, and observers close to the Judiciary Committee believe that Sens. Charles Grassley of Iowa and Orrin Hatch of Utah could also end up voting in her favor at the committee’s meeting July 28.
Neither Grassley nor Hatch has ever voted against a Supreme Court nominee chosen by a president from either party. Their offices said Wednesday that they remain undecided.
The full Senate is expected to take up Sotomayor’s nomination before its Aug. 7 recess.