NPR logo Senate Panel Set To Vote On Sotomayor


Senate Panel Set To Vote On Sotomayor

Tuesday's scheduled vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court is expected to be sharply divided along party lines. Charles Dharapak/AP hide caption

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Charles Dharapak/AP

Tuesday's scheduled vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court is expected to be sharply divided along party lines.

Charles Dharapak/AP

Judge Sonia Sotomayor will take another step in her historic journey to the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, when the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on her nomination to become the high court's first Hispanic and just its third woman.

With Democrats in firm control of the committee and commanding a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, Sotomayor, a 55-year-old Bronx native, is expected to be confirmed before Congress breaks for summer on Aug. 7.

Five Republicans, including two of the party's four female senators and Cuban-born Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, have said they will join their colleagues across the aisle in voting for the judge when her nomination is submitted to the full Senate.

At least 18 of the Senate's 40 Republicans have announced that they'll vote against Sotomayor.

Party Line Divisions

Tuesday's vote by the 19-member committee, which held hearings on her nomination two weeks ago, is also expected to be sharply divided along party lines.

Only South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the committee's seven Republicans, has said he will vote for Sotomayor. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a staunch opponent of legalized abortion, is the lone Republican on the panel who had yet to announce a position as of late Monday, though he is expected to oppose Sotomayor.

During Sotomayor's hearings, Graham was among GOP senators who questioned the judge aggressively about her now-infamous "wise Latina" comment. And he himself drew sharp criticism for pointedly asking her about unflattering — and anonymous — comments made about her on-bench temperament during her 17 years as a district and appeals court judge.

But Graham also noted several times during the hearing week that "elections matter," suggesting that President Obama deserves deference on his high court picks.

The five committee Republicans who have announced their opposition include two once considered the most likely to support Sotomayor: Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and former chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. Grassley has never voted against a high court nominee in his 29 years in the Senate, and Hatch had endorsed every Supreme Court nominee during his three decades on the committee.

"Her statements and record were too much at odds with the principles about the judiciary in which I deeply believe," Hatch said, announcing his opposition in a press release.

Hatch, however, said that the prospect of "a woman of Puerto Rican heritage serving on the Supreme Court brought great excitement to me and says a lot about America."

And, indeed, Sotmayor's life story as a high-achieving, Ivy League-educated Latina with an early history of advocacy for Puerto Rican civil rights provided not only a compelling narrative for her supporters, but also fodder for her critics.

Prior to her 11 years on the Court of Appeals for the New York-based 2nd Circuit, Sotomayor was a district court judge — nominated by GOP President George H.W. Bush, and supported at the time by Hatch. Previously, she worked as a Manhattan prosecutor and also spent eight years as a corporate litigator.

When her nomination reaches the full Senate, the number of votes Sotomayor receives may hinge on the two most recent confirmation votes: those for now-Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, both appointed by President George W. Bush.

In 2005, Roberts' nomination was endorsed 13-5 by the Republican-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee. All 10 of the panel's Republicans and three Democrats joined the majority. Roberts was confirmed by the Senate 78-22, with half of the Senate's 44 Democrats voting for the next chief justice.

In early 2006, Alito was endorsed by the committee with a 10-8 party line vote, and he was confirmed in the Senate, 58-42.

Obama, then a U.S. senator from Illinois, voted against both nominees when their names came to the Senate floor.