Obama’s choice

President Obama’s selection of Sonia Sotomayor to replace retiring Justice David Souter gave Republicans some pause on Tuesday.

Instead of the knee-jerk partisan reactions that usually come with the nomination of a Supreme Court justice, Republicans noted they must do their due diligence and review Sotomayor closely.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “Senate Republicans will treat Judge Sotomayor fairly. But we will thoroughly examine her record to ensure she understands that the role of a jurist in our democracy is to apply the law even-handedly, despite their own feelings or personal or political preferences.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said, “A lifetime appointment requires a thorough vetting, and I expect Judge Sotomayor to receive fair and deliberative consideration.”

Unlike their GOP counterparts, Democrats were not cautious. They applauded the selection of the first Hispanic to the high court. Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, shed tears.

Senate Republicans are in a politically difficult spot. If Republicans rally against Sotomayor, as The Hill’s Sam Youngman reported on Tuesday, they risk alienating the growing Hispanic constituency that is already trending Democratic. However, if they go too easy on her, the conservative base will cry foul.

Former Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla (Texas), an ally of former President George W. Bush’s, told The Hill that Senate Republicans will have to be mindful of how they treat Sotomayor: “That is the political reality. In an ideal world, you would decide on a Supreme Court justice based on their qualifications. But in the real world, this is something Senate Republicans are going to have to deal with, and that’s her ethnicity.”

That delicate balance was on display in a list of talking points sent by the Republican National Committee (RNC) to influential Republicans.

“Until we have a full view of the facts and comprehensive understanding of Judge Sotomayor’s record, Republicans will avoid partisanship and knee-jerk judgments,” the document said.

When former President Bill Clinton nominated Sotomayor to the U.S. Circuit Court, 25 Republican senators voted to confirm her. Seven of those 25 — Sens. Bob Bennett (Utah), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Richard Lugar (Ind.) and Judd Gregg (N.H.) — still serve in the upper chamber. An eighth, Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), was a Republican at the time but switched to the Democratic Party last month.

Among the Republicans who rejected her nomination were Sens. McConnell, Grassley, Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and John McCain (Ariz.).

The Sotomayor nomination has a long way to go, but in the critical first round, Democrats are on offense and Republicans are on their heels.