Sotomayor vote date uncertain

There is little doubt that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor will be confirmed next week. But it’s unclear when it will happen.

Senate Republicans have proposed the idea of a four-day debate on the nominee, with most of their 40 members planning to speak on Sotomayor’s fitness for the court. But Democrats say no more than two days should be necessary — and that other Senate business will be on the chamber’s to-do list as well.

Hanging over the negotiations between Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is the Senate’s precious deadline of adjourning for its monthlong August recess on or before Friday, Aug. 7. A prolonged schedule on Sotomayor could push that into the weekend, particularly since appropriations bills will also be vying for floor time.

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“I don’t know how Reid does it all and still has time for Sotomayor,” said GOP Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona.

Chief Justice John Roberts was debated for four days on the floor in September 2005, but Justice Samuel Alito — a much more controversial nominee — received five days of debate in January 2006.

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, sidestepped questions about specifics, simply saying that Reid should allow ample time for all Republicans who wish to speak. Sessions said he doesn’t know how many want to speak.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) said the GOP will push for the maximum amount of time because of the gravity of the nomination. Alexander is alone among GOP leaders in his support for Sotomayor — McConnell, Kyl and GOP Policy Chairman John Thune of South Dakota have all announced their opposition.

“A Supreme Court nomination is an unusual event, and we take it very seriously,” Alexander said. “A great many of our senators wish to speak.”

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Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said only a minimum of time should be necessary because so many senators have already stated their positions on Sotomayor.

“Everybody knows how they’re going to vote,” Leahy said. “And I would think with the way the Republicans have been throwing out such criticisms of the Hispanic community, they wouldn’t want a lot of time. … Everybody knows how it’s going to come out, so I think everybody wants to get home.”

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), a former Judiciary Committee chairman and ranking Republican until his switch to the Democratic Party this year, told reporters on Thursday that only two days of debate should be necessary on Sotomayor.

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