The Nation: Smooth Sailing For Sotomayor

Partner content from The Nation

How well did Judge Sonia Sotomayor do at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee?

Well enough to get Senate Republicans to throw in the towel.

The committee's edgiest critic of President Barack Obama's first Supreme Court nomination, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, said after Judge Sotomayor finished her testimony Thursday that he would oppose any attempt to block her confirmation with a filibuster.

Sessions assured the judge that she would get a Senate vote and said he would "look forward to you getting that vote" before the Senate takes summer recess, which is set to begin August 7.

That doesn't mean that Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, will vote to make Judge Sotomayor an associate justice on the nation's highest court.

But other Republicans will.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, who has managed the confirmation process with his usual informality and dry humor, said as much Thursday. Leahy made it clear that his heavy lifting was done, as was Judge Sotomayor's. What could have been an ugly, contentious and ridiculously ideological hearing that rubbed raw the open sores of a country that continues to struggle with questions of race, ethnicity and gender was, for the most part, calm and respectful – perhaps even a bit dull, as Judge Sotomayor refused to bite when her conservative critics attempted to bait her.

After the judge finished four days during which she was supposed to provide testimony but that mostly saw her listening to speeches from the senators who will decide whether she gets a lifetime seat on the high-court bench, Leahy said, "I think it is pretty clear that she will be confirmed, that she will be the ninth member of the U.S. Supreme Court and that (her nomination will be approved) with Democratic and Republican votes."

The news here is the firm assertion from a committee chairman who has been judging Supreme Court nominations for 35 years that: "There will be Republican votes for her."

The chairman knows his committee.

He knows the Senate.

And he is right where this nomination "fight" is headed.

The right-wing campaign to demonize Judge Sotomayor – as a "wise Latina," among other things – appears to have failed to unite the "party of no" in saying "no" to Obama's high-court pick.

There is no evidence that any Democrat on the Judiciary Committee will oppose Judge Sotomayor.

There is a good deal of evidence that as many as three Judiciary Committee Republicans, perhaps even more, will vote to approve the judge's nomination.

Best bets for bipartisanship: Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.

All three are conservative Republicans. But they are also men of the Senate, long-term legislators who see themselves more as members of the chamber in which they serve than of the movement with which they are affiliated.

The shadow line that committee Republicans who vote to approve Judge Sotomayor's nomination will walk was summed up during a final round of questioning of the nominee by Graham.

The senator buffed his conservative credentials by telling the judge: "You've said some things that have bugged the hell out of me."

The senator mouthed most of the Rush Limbaugh talking points. "Your speeches are disturbing, particularly to conservatives... Those speeches to me suggested gender and racial affiliations in a way that a lot of us wonder, will you take that line of thinking to the Supreme Court in these cases of first precedent."

But then, bluntly rejecting the core argument of the nominee's most rabid right-wing critics, Graham distinguished Judge Sotomayor's sometimes controversial speeches and her work (as a board member) with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund from her decisions as a jurist

"Well, Judge, to be honest with you, your record as a judge has not been radical by any means," the senator said.

What might have sounded to some like an attack on the nominee was, in fact, the outlining of an argument for voting to put her on the bench.

"You have, I think, consistently, as an advocate, took a point of view that was left of center," Graham told Judge Sotomayor. "You have, as a judge, been generally in the mainstream."

The Graham-Sotomayor exchange closed with a reference to a key talking-point of the judge's critics but ended up sounding an awfully lot like an endorsement of the nomination.

To wit:

GRAHAM: The last question on the "wise Latina woman" comment. To those who may be bothered by that, what do you say?

SOTOMAYOR: I regret that I have offended some people. I believe that my life demonstrates that that was not my intent to leave the impression that some have taken from my words.

GRAHAM: You know what, Judge? I agree with you. Good luck.

It is fair to say that Leahy was thinking of that exchange when he said: "There will be Republican votes for her."

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