Senate poised for August vote as Sotomayor concludes testimony

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor concluded her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday and appeared poised to receive a Senate floor vote on her confirmation in August.

GOP interest in a filibuster of her nomination appears nonexistent. Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he won’t support a filibuster, and a top Sotomayor opponent, Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, has said he won’t block the nomination.

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“I will not support — and I don’t think any member of this side will support — a filibuster or any attempt to block a vote on your nomination,” Sessions told Sotomayor shortly before she left the hearing. “It’s a very important vote. We all need to take our time and think it through and cast it honestly, as the occasion demands. But I look forward to you getting that vote before we recess in August.”

That comment brought Sessions in line with Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who has long said he expects a vote before Congress recesses on Friday, Aug. 7. It also effectively ended a long-running GOP complaint that Sotomayor’s confirmation process was being rushed by Senate Democrats.

Sotomayor ended her four days at the witness table early Thursday afternoon after fielding a final round of salvos from GOP senators.

“I have received all the graciousness and fair hearing that I could have asked for,” Sotomayor told the committee just before leaving the room in the Hart Senate Office Building, getting a bear hug on the way from Leahy.

Republicans continued to insist on a “dissonance” between Sotomayor’s speeches and her statements this week, however, with several GOP senators saying they detect a sense of activism in her speeches.

“The reason these speeches matter and the reasons elections matter is because people now understand the role of the court in modern society when it comes to social change,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), the one Senate Republican to hint he might vote in favor of Sotomayor. “That’s why we fight so hard to put on the court people who see the world like us. That’s true from the left, and that’s true from the right.”

Sotomayor successfully stuck to her weeklong strategy of mimicking the testimony of recent court nominees like Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito — describing herself as a strict constructionist of the Constitution and continually withdrawing when pressed to state a philosophical position.

Asked repeatedly again on Thursday about her controversial 2001 remark that a “wise Latina” would have a superior judicial mindset, Sotomayor repeated her disavowal of the phrase, describing it as “pretty bad in terms of leaving a bad impression.”

“I regret that I have offended some of you. I believe that my life demonstrates that that was not my intent, to leave the impression that has been created by my words,” she said.

Along the way, Sotomayor fielded questions on all manner of flashpoint topics — abortion, gun control, property rights, the future of the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the effect of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. government, the war on terror and the idea of television cameras inside the Supreme Court.

Thursday afternoon was devoted to character witnesses who alternately praised and condemned Sotomayor. Supporters were led by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, former FBI Director Louis Freeh and former Major League Baseball Players Association official David Cone, among others.

But critics were prevalent, too. Republicans called Lt. Frank Ricci, the lead plaintiff in the Ricci v. DeStefano case, in which Sotomayor’s ruling was recently overturned by the Supreme Court. The case is an affirmative action matter in which white firefighters sued the city of New Haven, Conn., for throwing out the results of a promotion test after minority firefighters failed to qualify. Sotomayor had upheld a lower court decision in favor of the defendants.

“We never asked for sympathy from the courts,” Ricci told the committee. “We simply asked for serious consideration of our claims and an acknowledgment of our basic right to be treated fairly.”

Linda Chavez, chairwoman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and a veteran of both the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, also implored the committee, “Do not vote to confirm this nominee.

“It is clear from Judge Sotomayor’s record that she has drunk deep from the well of identity politics,” Chavez said. “Judge Sotomayor has repeatedly said that race, ethnicity and gender are determinants of one’s point of view.”

Support for Sotomayor on Thursday also came from Democratic women on the Judiciary Committee, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. Feinstein noted that when Sotomayor graduated from Yale Law School in 1979, no woman had ever served on the Supreme Court.

Feinstein also noted that women constitute 50.7 percent of the U.S. population, yet only 17 of the 100 U.S. senators are women, and only one — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — still sits on the Supreme Court.