Baucus quickly backtracks, will support Sotomayor

A day after twice declaring himself undecided on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Friday announced he will support the judge.

Baucus acted quickly, releasing a statement that was picked up by the Great Falls Tribune and the Flathead Beacon. In the statement, Baucus calls Sotomayor “unquestionably qualified” for the court.

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“I am proud to support her nomination and will vote to confirm her as a justice to the United States Supreme Court,” Baucus said.

On Thursday, Baucus told The Hill in two separate interviews that he has been too occupied with health reform to consider his vote on Sotomayor. The nominee is up for a Senate floor vote next week, but Baucus has also been at the center of controversy over his chairmanship of the chamber’s Finance Committee.

“I have no idea,” Baucus said Thursday. “I haven’t paid any attention and I haven’t announced ... I’ve been so busy with healthcare. It’s under consideration. I’ll certainly know when I vote, but right now I can’t tell you.”

Baucus’s action Friday quells what could have been a fierce controversy with the liberal side of the Democratic Party, which has been critical of his efforts to compromise with Republicans on health reform. Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee are even running ads against Baucus in his home state.

The senator’s support for Sotomayor also marks another blow to the National Rifle Association, which has now seen six of its endorsed senators back the nominee. The NRA is opposing Sotomayor and plans to “score” the vote in its future evaluations of senators. Baucus has an “A” ranking from the NRA.

The other five senators backed by the gun lobby who have announced support for Sotomayor are Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.). Mark Warner (D-Va.) has also compiled a pro-gun-rights record, but the NRA did not weigh in on his Senate race last year."

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence seized on the trend immediately Friday.

“If [the] NRA was hoping to intimidate senators in this vote, it looks like they're having the opposite effect,” said Brady Campaign spokesman Doug Pennington.

Warner told The Hill on Thursday that he was “very disappointed” in the gun lobby and that he is not worried that Sotomayor will restrict the rights of gun owners.

“The NRA at some point has gone beyond its mission, and are perhaps allowing themselves to get hijacked by those who are in the extreme,” Warner said.

The NRA has not responded to a request for comment.

Baucus voted to confirm John Roberts, President George W. Bush’s nominee for chief justice. He later voted against now-Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

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Republicans Susan Collins (Maine), Richard Lugar (Ind.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) have also announced their support for Sotomayor.

In a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week, the NRA cited two controversial decisions in Sotomayor’s past: Maloney v. Cuomo, in which she ruled the Second Amendment did not apply to state and local governments, and United States v. Sanchez-Villar, in which she found that gun ownership is not a fundamental right.

“We believe any individual who does not agree that the Second Amendment guarantees a fundamental right and who does not respect our God-given right of self-defense should not serve on any court, much less the highest court in the land,” the NRA wrote.

Baucus’s full statement on Friday: “The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, and the pinnacle of the judicial branch of our government. Being confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice is a tremendous honor with enormous responsibility. I have long said that to be a Supreme Court Justice a person must meet three main criteria: personal integrity, professional competence, and a view of important issues that is within the mainstream of contemporary judicial thought. After personally meeting Judge Sotomayor, thoroughly analyzing her judicial record, and reviewing her nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Sotomayor unquestionably meets each of these criteria. Thus, I am proud to support her nomination and will vote to confirm her as a Justice to the United States Supreme Court.”