The Democrat and Republican leaders took to the floor of the Senate on Tuesday and began what is expected to be a spirited debate over President Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.
There is no doubt about the outcome, analysts say. Judge Sotomayor already has more than enough committed votes to win confirmation.
But the stakes in the debate extend beyond filling a high court vacancy. The National Rifle Association, which opposes Sotomayor, has put senators on notice that the group will weigh the Sotomayor vote in its annual rankings of individual lawmakers.
In addition, there is concern among Republicans that a vote against Sotomayor could hurt their future prospects with Hispanic voters, an increasingly important segment of the American electorate.
Sotomayor is the first Hispanic named to sit on the Supreme Court. If confirmed she would also become only the third woman to serve as a justice.
In his comments on the Senate floor, majority leader Harry Reid emphasized the historic nature of the nomination. He focused on Sotomayor’s academic achievements at Princeton and Yale Law School and her record as a federal trial and appeals court judge.
“She has developed a 17-year record as a moderate, mainstream judge,” he said.
Reid said he was looking forward to a “full and fair debate” on the nomination.
Republican leader Mitch McConnell brushed past Sotomayor’s record and focused instead on her controversial out-of-court writings and speeches.
“In her writings and in her speeches, Judge Sotomayor has repeatedly stated that there is no objectivity or neutrality in judging,” Senator McConnell said. “She said her experiences will affect the facts she chooses to see as a judge.”
McConnell said he had concerns about Sotomayor’s approach to judging and that those concerns “only multiplied” during the week-long confirmation hearings conducted by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
During the hearings, Sotomayor was questioned about her view of Mr. Obama’s preference for judicial nominees who he believes will bring a measure of “empathy” to the bench for those in American society who lack power.
Sotomayor distanced herself from Obama’s empathy standard, saying that as a judge she would be faithful to the law rather than to her personal feelings. McConnell rejects the explanation.
“I cannot support the so-called empathy standard upon which Judge Sotomayor was selected and to which she, herself, has subscribed in her writings and rulings,” McConnell said.
“When it comes to judging, empathy is only good if you’re lucky enough to be the person or the group that the judge in question has empathy for,” the Republican leader said. “In those cases, it’s the judge, not the law, which determines the outcome.”
“Americans expect one thing when they walk into a courtroom, whether it’s traffic court or the Supreme Court – and that’s equal treatment under the law,” McConnell said.
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