The Senate GOP and Sotomayor

I wrote about Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) here last week, wondering if any Senate Republicans would back him up after he became the first GOP senator to reject the "racist" label Rush Limbaugh and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) had slapped on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

Yesterday's New York Times points out that Cornyn is "a conservative former Texas Supreme Court justice" who could "make a tough intellectual case against Judge Sotomayor."

Cornyn may yet do so, but not until establishing some credibility as a fair judge of Sotomayor's record. To begin, he blasted Gingrich's characterization of Sotomayor. Others backed Cornyn up; congratulations to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for coming out and also rejecting such comments.

Increasingly, Senate Republicans are finding themselves hampered in their efforts to mount a credible opposition to Sotomayor's nomination by unelected conservatives who seek to control the debate by attacking her. Led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Republicans have chosen a disciplined, consistent and cohesive strategy for debating Sotomayor's nomination. They know they are unlikely to stop her confirmation but are calling for a longer, more deliberative process during which they hope to gain some political ground. While they strongly oppose Sotomayor, for the most part, many Senate Republicans will wind up voting for her. For now they have chosen to avoid falling into the trap President Obama tried setting for them by refusing to criticize the historic pick of the first Hispanic woman for the high court.

The pressure from the conservatives on the outside — those not tasked with approving judicial nominations — is tremendous, as I described in my column this week.

Some are calling for a filibuster despite the facts that Republicans fought filibuster attempts against President Bush's nominees and don't have the numbers to succeed. No matter how intense the grassroots heat grows in the months to come, Senate Republicans need to stick to their plan, and they give into that pressure at their peril.


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