A key Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Wednesday that he would vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, potentially clearing the way for several other Republicans to support the New York federal appeals judge.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a speech on the Senate floor that although he believed Sotomayor’s record was “left of center,” she was not “someone who under the robe is an ‘activist.’ ”
That is the label some in the GOP have been trying to affix to Sotomayor, 55, since she was nominated in May to replace retiring Justice David H. Souter. If confirmed, she would be the first Latino to serve on the Supreme Court.
Last week during Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings, several Republicans on the committee pointed to her now-infamous “wise Latina” speech and other remarks, warning that as a justice she would favor disadvantaged groups and could not be counted on to remain impartial.
But Graham stood out when he said that presidents deserve deference on their choices for the court. He said as much Wednesday.
“I would not have chosen her if I had made this choice as president, but I understand why President Obama did,” Graham said. “Elections matter.”
Had Graham announced that he was going to vote against Sotomayor, it would have signaled that Republicans were gearing up to push for a close vote along party lines. But his support ensured that Sotomayor would be voted out of the Judiciary Committee next week with some bipartisan backing -- providing political cover for others in the Republican caucus to vote for her.
Her confirmation appears virtually certain, as Democrats hold a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate. That basic math has shifted the focus to whether Sotomayor would collect a substantial number of GOP votes, bolstering the White House’s contention that she is a centrist judge.
Four other GOP senators already have announced their support for Sotomayor, and observers close to the judiciary committee expect that Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah could end up voting in her favor at the committee’s meeting Tuesday -- although their offices said Wednesday that they remained undecided.
However, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican Senate whip, said Wednesday that he would vote against Sotomayor’s confirmation. He joins Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and others in declaring his opposition.
“I remain unconvinced that Judge Sotomayor believes judges should set aside biases, including those based on race and gender, and render the law impartially and neutrally,” Kyl said minutes before Graham made his remarks.
The full Senate is expected to take up Sotomayor’s nomination before its summer recess begins after the first week of August.