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Sotomayor Debate Is Under Way

Rhetoric Continues Despite Certain Outcome

The Senate on Tuesday began the final leg of Supreme Court hopeful Sonia Sotomayor’s 10-week confirmation process with Democrats and Republicans laying down rhetorical markers for a two-day floor debate that will do nothing to change the outcome.

Senators continued to state their positions on the nomination, including Sen. John Ensign (Nev.), who joined a growing list of GOP lawmakers who plan to vote against confirmation. But with six Republicans — Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Mel Martinez (Fla.), Dick Lugar (Ind.) and Maine’s Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe — joining what is expected to be a united Democratic Conference, Sotomayor’s confirmation is anything but in doubt.

That certainty comes even though Democrats are likely to go without the votes of ailing Sens. Edward Kennedy (Mass.), Robert Byrd (W.Va.) and possibly Barbara Mikulski (Md.), who is nursing a broken angle. Sotomayor, a judge on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, needs just 51 votes to win confirmation to the high court.

At press time, Senate Republican Policy Committee Vice Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) was the only member of either leadership team whose vote was not yet known.

Yet even with the drama seemingly gone, both opponents and proponents continued to play their appointed roles. Democrats hailed the confirmation of the first Latina Supreme Court justice as a major step forward in American society; they touted Sotomayor as a highly qualified, independent jurist. Republicans continued to question her impartiality as a judge and whether she would use the law — not her personal agenda — to influence rulings.

Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who has shepherded the confirmation through the chamber, called Sotomayor’s nomination “a truly American story.—

“She was raised by a working mother in the Bronx and rose to win top honors as part of one of the first classes of women to graduate from Princeton. … She is now poised to become the first Latina justice, and just the third woman, to serve on the United States Supreme Court,— he said. “She has broken barriers along the way and has become a role model to many. Her life journey is a reminder to all of the continuing vitality of the American dream.—

[IMGCAP(1)]“Judge Sotomayor’s selection for the Supreme Court also represents another step toward the establishment of justice,— Leahy added.

Democrats this week will also continue to align with advocacy groups to make a final final push for Sotomayor. Sens. Benjamin Cardin (Md.) and Charles Schumer (N.Y.) — both members of the Judiciary Committee — will attend a rally today with civil rights organizations, while Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is expected to hold a separate event with Hispanic leaders.

Republicans, meanwhile, continued their assault on Sotomayor’s speeches and on President Barack Obama’s argument that judges should meet an “empathy— standard. What’s more, GOP Senators will make a larger case for the direction of the Supreme Court and the role of the judiciary.

For instance, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in a floor speech before the debate began, argued: “Sotomayor has impressed all of us with her life story. But if empathy is the new standard, then the burden is on nominees, like her, who are chosen on that basis to demonstrate a firm commitment to equal justice under the law. On the contrary, Judge Sotomayor has openly doubted the ability of judges to adhere to this core principle, and she has even doubted the wisdom of them doing so.

“Sotomayor is a fine person with an impressive story and a distinguished background. But a judge must be able to check his or her personal or political agenda at the courtroom door and do justice even-handedly, as the judicial oath requires. This is the most fundamental test. It’s a test Judge Sotomayor does not pass,— McConnell said.

When confirmed, Sotomayor will be poised to take her seat on the bench before the court reconvenes this fall. She would become the second female on the bench and the third woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court. She would replace Justice David Souter, who retired in June.

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