Judiciary Committee backs Sotomayor nomination, 13-6

Senate Judiciary Committee members on Tuesday approved the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, 13-6.

Every panel Republican, except for Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), voted no.

Based on a review by The Hill of media statements, interviews and Tuesday’s committee votes, 15 of the 40 Senate Republicans are still undecided on the Sotomayor nomination.

GOP senators point to a variety of factors to explain their indecision — the distraction of health reform, Sotomayor’s 17-year judicial record and a desire to wait until after the committee vote.

Mindful of the time crunch, ranking Judiciary Committee member Jeff Sessions (Ala.) has offered his GOP colleagues access to hearing transcripts and analyses.

But many Republicans said they just haven’t gotten around to making up their minds.

“I haven’t made any decision,” said 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain (Ariz.).

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the nomination will be considered before the Senate recesses next Friday.

Graham said he understands Republican criticism of Sotomayor but believes she is within the mainstream.

“I base my vote on qualifications, and I came away from the hearing feeling she was well-qualified,” Graham said. “I would not have chosen her, but I understand why President Obama did.”

Sotomayor was not present Tuesday — she went through four days of questioning two weeks ago — and she was opposed by the other six Republicans on the panel: Sessions, John Cornyn (Texas), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Orrin Hatch (Utah).

The Republicans repeated their party’s oft-stated criticism that Sotomayor has a demonstrated activist bent that will continue if she reaches the high court. The GOP senators also repeatedly expressed frustration with the nominee’s “evasions” during her four days of hearings.

“Her speeches and articles described a troubling approach to judging that her hearing testimony did not resolve,” said Hatch, a former committee chairman. “In the end, Judge Sotomayor’s record regarding her approach to judging simply left too many unresolved controversies and too many conflicts with fundamental principles about the judiciary.”

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) took the lead in defending Sotomayor, saying, “In her 17 years on the bench there is not one example, let alone a pattern, of her ruling based on bias or prejudice or sympathy.”

As a replacement for retiring Justice David Souter, whose rulings were widely viewed as left-leaning, Sotomayor is not expected to significantly alter the court’s philosophical balance.

One surprising bit of criticism on Tuesday came from Wisconsin’s two Democratic senators, Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, who condemned the lack of forthrightness in recent Supreme Court nomination hearings. Since the watershed hearings of Robert Bork in 1987 and Clarence Thomas in 1991, nominees are now coached to such an extent by presidential administrations that candor has suffered, Kohl and Feingold asserted.

“These hearings have become little more than theater, where senators try to ask clever questions and nominees try to come up with cleverer ways to respond without answering,” Feingold said.


GOP stances on Sotomayor

Republicans who say they will vote yes (5)

Susan Collins (Maine)
Lindsey Graham (S.C.)
Richard Lugar (Ind.)
Mel Martinez (Fla.)
Olympia Snowe (Maine)

Republicans who say they will vote no (20)

Bob Bennett (Utah)
Sam Brownback (Kan.)
Jim Bunning (Ky.)
Tom Coburn (Okla.)
Thad Cochran (Miss.)
John Cornyn (Texas)
Mike Crapo (Idaho)
Chuck Grassley (Iowa)
Orrin Hatch (Utah)
Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas)
James Inhofe (Okla.)
Jon Kyl (Ariz.)
Mitch McConnell (Ky.)
Jim Risch (Idaho)
Pat Roberts (Ky.)
Jeff Sessions (Ala.)
Richard Shelby (Ala.)
John Thune (S.D.)
David Vitter (La.)
Roger Wicker (Miss.)

Undecided/Have not publicly announced (15)

Lamar Alexander (Tenn.)
John Barrasso (Wyo.)
Kit Bond (Mo.)*
Richard Burr (N.C.)
Saxby Chambliss (Ga.)
Bob Corker (Tenn.)
Jim DeMint (S.C.)
John Ensign (Nev.)
Mike Enzi (Wyo.)
Judd Gregg (N.H.)
Johnny Isakson (Ga.)
Mike Johanns (Neb.)
John McCain (Ariz.)
Lisa Murkowski (Alaska)
George Voinovich (Ohio)

* Bond says he will “probably” vote yes

This article was updated on July 29 at 12:35 p.m.