As the Senate Judiciary Committee approaches its Tuesday vote on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, six of the seven Republican committee members have now announced that they will toe the party line with their vote tomorrow.
Sens. Jeff Sessions and Charles Grassley announced Monday that they will not vote for Judge Sotomayor, joining three other Republican senators – Orrin Hatch, John Cornyn, and Jon Kyl – who had previously announced their opposition.
That leaves Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as the lone Republican committee member to declare his support for the Bronx-born judge. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has yet to announce his decision.
The partisan split of Tuesday’s vote is no surprise. Recent Senate Judiciary Committee votes have also largely fallen along party lines. Most notably, during Justice Samuel Alito’s confirmation in 2005, not a single committee member crossed party lines – the first instance of strict party-line voting in 90 years.
Senator Sessions, the committee’s top-ranking Republican, told USA Today that he “must withhold [his] consent” in tomorrow’s vote and that he doesn’t “believe that Judge Sotomayor has the deep-rooted convictions necessary to resist the siren call of judicial activism.”
Senator Graham announced his party-defying support for Sotomayor on the Senate floor Wednesday, saying, “I understand the path of least resistance for me would be to vote no … but I feel compelled to vote yes.”
Graham explained that he believes President Obama “deserves some deference … when it comes to his first selection to the Supreme Court,” and that Sotomayor is “one of the most qualified nominees to be selected for the Supreme Court in decades.”
Senator Hatch, who has voted for every previous Supreme Court nominee during his tenure in the Senate, was widely expected to support Sotomayor. Explaining his opposition, Hatch released a written statement last week in which he said: “Although Judge Sotomayor has a compelling life story and dedication to public service, her statements and record were too much at odds with the principles about the judiciary in which I deeply believe.”
Partisanship on past panels
The confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. in 2005 was only slightly less partisan. The committee panel split 13 to 5 in favor of confirming the nation’s 17th chief justice. Three of the panel's eight Democrats supported the Republican nominee.
One of those Democrats, Russ Feingold, explained his decision at the time by saying: “There may very well be a Democratic John Roberts nominated to the Court [in the future], a man or woman with outstanding qualifications, ... on the progressive side of the ideological spectrum," and that he hoped to receive Republican support at that time.
The last clear case of a nonpartisan vote was in 1994, when Justice Stephen Breyer won unanimous confirmation from the panel’s 10 Democrats and eight Republicans.
On Sotomayor, four other Republican senators outside the Judiciary Committee – Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana and Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida – have pledged support for Sotomayor.
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