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Senate Democrats Seek GOP Support for Sotomayor

August 5, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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As the Senate opens debate on confirming Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, Democrats are focusing on winning GOP support, and Republicans are concentrating on not upsetting Hispanic voters. Kwame Holman reports.
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GWEN IFILL: The Senate spent the day debating the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman has the story.

KWAME HOLMAN: As the debate over her nomination to the Supreme Court reached its last hours, Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation appeared imminent. Nearly all Senate Democrats have expressed their intention to vote for her. And at the end of today’s debate, at least seven Republicans said they will vote to confirm.

They include retiring Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, who announced his support today, but also took the opportunity to criticize then-Senator Obama for rejecting Republican-nominated judges.

SEN. KIT BOND, R-Mo: I could easily say, as Senator Obama said, that I disagree with the nominee’s judicial approach and that allows me to oppose the nominee of a different party. Luckily for President Obama, I do not agree with Senator Obama.

For my liberal friends, I hope they remember this day, when another qualified nominee before the Senate who is conservative, the standards set by Senator Obama should not govern the Senate.

KWAME HOLMAN: Florida’s Mel Martinez also is retiring next year and is the Senate’s sole Hispanic Republican. He, too, said he’d vote for Sotomayor despite disagreements with her, particularly on her ruling in a gun rights case.

SEN. MEL MARTINEZ, R-Fla: I believe her view, as expressed in her panel’s Maloney v. Cuomo opinion, of whether the Second Amendment applies against state and local governments is too narrow and contrary to the founders’ intent. But the confirmation process is not the proper place to re-litigate this question, nor is Judge Sotomayor’s judicial record on this issue outside the mainstream.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Sotomayor’s Republican opponents, including Richard Burr of North Carolina, said her ruling in that very case casts doubt on her promises to adhere to settled law.

SEN. RICHARD BURR, R-N.C.: I believe that she bent the Constitution when she ruled in the Maloney case that the rights — the right to bear arms was not a fundamental right of the American people.

Democratic Women Hail Sotomayor

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN, D-N.H.: This week, we have the opportunity to make history.

KWAME HOLMAN: On the opposite side of the aisle, Democratic women took to the floor to herald the prospect of the nation's third female Supreme Court justice.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY, D-Wash.: She's been clear with me, with the Judiciary Committee and the American people that her own biases and personal opinions never play a role in deciding cases. More importantly, her 17 years on the bench stand as a testament to that fact.

KWAME HOLMAN: New York's Kirsten Gillibrand emphasized that, while Sotomayor's nomination is historic, her background and gender are less important than her record.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND, D-N.Y.: Sonia Sotomayor's ethnicity or gender alone does not indicate what sort of Supreme Court justice she will be. Rather, it is Judge Sotomayor's experience and record that more fully informs us. The breadth and depth of Judge Sotomayor's experience makes her uniquely qualified for the Supreme Court.

KWAME HOLMAN: Outside the Capitol, leaders of major civil rights groups -- including the National Council of La Raza -- rallied in support of Sotomayor's elevation to the nation's highest court and they pledged a vote against the Supreme Court's first Hispanic would not be forgotten.

Still, Republicans -- even those from states with growing Latino populations -- remained concerned that Sotomayor would become an activist on the bench.

What to Expect from Sotomayor

SEN. JON KYL, R-Ariz.: Judge Sotomayor's appearance before the Judiciary Committee did little to dispel my concerns. In many cases, her testimony exacerbated them.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-Tex.: The question is, what kind of judge will she be on the Supreme Court, where her decisions are no longer reviewed by a higher court, as they were as a federal district court or court of appeals justice?

The question is, will she be the judge she has been as a lower court judge, making decisions which by and large have been in the mainstream, with some notable exceptions which I've talked about, or will she be un-tethered? Will she be the Judge Sotomayor of some of her more radical speeches and writings, which cause me concern?

KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate is scheduled to vote on Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination tomorrow.

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