Shoo-in vote for Sotomayor

Eleven years after the Senate last confirmed Sonia Sotomayor for a federal judgeship, the chamber is poised on Thursday to put her on the Supreme Court by a nearly identical margin.

President Barack Obama’s nominee — the court’s first Hispanic — is a shoo-in for confirmation, leaving the margin of approval and the amount of GOP support as the only real questions. Even Sotomayor’s stiffest critics have conceded she has enough votes.

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“I don’t think there’s any doubt of passage,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who will vote no.

Media tallies, including one by The Hill, predict the margin will closely mirror the 67-29 total of Oct. 2, 1998, when Sotomayor was confirmed for a seat on the 2nd Circuit. All of the 29 opposition votes came from Republicans, although 25 of them crossed over to support her.

This time around, GOP opposition has stiffened. Only seven of the 40 Senate Republicans have announced they will support her confirmation: Kit Bond of Missouri, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Mel Martinez of Florida, Richard Lugar of Indiana and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Bond and Martinez are not seeking reelection.

As of press time, at least 30 GOP senators had said they will vote no.

The vote will also likely land somewhere between the fairly bipartisan 78-22 vote that confirmed Chief Justice John Roberts in September 2005 and the much more partisan vote of 58-42 that confirmed Justice Samuel Alito in January 2006. Democrats split evenly, 22-22, on Roberts, but only four supported Alito and 40 opposed him.

Throughout the debate, Republicans have noted that Obama, as a senator, voted against Roberts and Alito, a point they raised again on Wednesday.

Bond was one of several in the GOP who criticized Obama for opposing them based on philosophy, not qualifications — a standard they repeatedly noted they reject. But that didn’t stop him from announcing his support for Sotomayor.

“I could easily say, as Sen. Obama said, that I disagree with a nominee’s judicial approach, and that allows me to oppose the nominee of a different party,” said Bond on Wednesday. “Luckily for President Obama, I do not agree with Sen. Obama.”

Democrats said seven GOP votes are enough to consider the vote bipartisan, but Republicans disagreed.

“It’s hard to characterize that as a significant bipartisan vote,” said GOP Policy Chairman John Thune (S.D.). “Remember, there were predictions that she was going to get 70 to 80. She could get close to 70, but you’d have to describe it as a lighter Republican vote than people were first predicting. It will be short of a Roberts-type number, but more than Alito.”

When Obama nominated Sotomayor on May 26, some predicted she would be confirmed by a wide margin. But in the course of the debate she appeared to lose some Republicans, who assailed her as an activist judge based on comments from past speeches. A mostly smooth hearing process before the Judiciary Committee last month hardly won over her critics, as the nominee repeatedly refused to be drawn into detailed discussions of her personal opinions.

Three of the top four Republican leaders — Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Thune — plan to oppose her.

Republicans appear to be unconcerned with any potential backlash from Latino voters who might be offended that so many did not support the first Hispanic justice. With the exception of Martinez, Republicans in states with large Hispanic populations — like Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison and Arizona Sens. Kyl and McCain — are voting no.

Yet the nomination’s success is assured. Republicans are not insisting on a 60-vote threshold, leaving Sotomayor’s confirmation to a simple majority. Democrats are expected to overwhelmingly support her, after a last handful of undeclared members announced their support Wednesday, including Sens. Chris Dodd (Conn.), Kent Conrad (N.D) and Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.).

The powerful lobbying effort over Sotomayor on the sidelines is likely to end with a rare — though increasingly common — defeat for the National Rifle Association. The gun lobby is opposing the nomination and plans to consider the vote in its lawmaker evaluations, yet eight NRA-backed senators plan to buck the group: Sens. Graham, Martinez, Alexander, Bond, Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told The Hill the vote shows “the Senate has refused to be intimidated by the NRA’s threats, and will confirm a well-qualified justice whose background as a prosecutor has given her a firsthand understanding of how gun violence affects American families.”