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Graham Supports Sotomayor; Cochran Opposes Nominee

Updated: 1:12 p.m.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) endorsed the nomination of Supreme Court hopeful Sonia Sotomayor on Wednesday — even though he was one of her toughest questioners during her four-day Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing last week, senior GOP aides said.

But Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who voted to confirm Sotomayor to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1998, is expected to join Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) in opposing her nomination to the high court.

Graham’s support is not entirely unexpected — during her final round of questions to Sotomayor, he all but endorsed her nomination. He becomes the fifth Republican Senator to formally endorse the nominee. Others include Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins as well as Dick Lugar (Ind.) and Mel Martinez (Fla.).

Graham, in a floor speech, said he believes Sotomayor is a “mainstream— jurist who “is bound by the law.— He said he was “voting for her because I find her to be well-qualified. Elections matter and those that have served beside her for years find her to be an extraordinary woman.—

Noting that retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter, whom Sotomayor would replace if confirmed, is known as a liberal judge, Graham argued that, “I think Judge Sotomayor will not be any more liberal than him.—

Responding to Sotomayor’s answer regarding how she may view a case challenging whether gun rights are “fundamental— under the law, Graham praised Sotomayor’s ability to separate her work as a judge from her own political beliefs.

“I don’t know how you’re going to come out on that case. Because I think fundamentally you’re able after all these years as a judge to embrace a right you may not want for yourself. … That is what makes you, for me, more acceptable as a judge, and not an activist. … Because an activist would be chomping at the bit to use this wonderful opportunity,— Graham said.

“You understand that America is bigger than the Bronx and bigger than South Carolina,— he added.

Cochran’s decision to come out against Sotomayor makes him the second Republican Senator who voted for her in 1998 to switch gears this year.

Sotomayor enjoyed significant bipartisan Senate support for her appointment to the New York-based federal appeals court. Seven sitting GOP Senators — Bob Bennett (Utah), Snowe, Lugar, Collins, Judd Gregg (N.H.), Cochran and Orrin Hatch (Utah) — voted in favor.

Bennett came out against her nomination last Friday, while Snowe and Lugar both announced that they would vote for her.

Kyl, who serves on the Judiciary Committee, gave a floor speech Wednesday criticizing Sotomayor’s responses to questions during the hearing and formally announcing that he would vote against her confirmation. Democrats have closely watched Kyl on the Sotomayor nomination since Latinos make up a large part of Arizona’s population.

“Unfortunately, I have not been persuaded that Judge Sotomayor is absolutely committed to setting aside her biases and impartially deciding cases based upon the rule of law,— Kyl said on the Senate floor. “And I cannot ignore her unwillingness to answer Senators’ questions straightforwardly. For these reasons, I oppose her nomination.—