Sotomayor gains one GOP vote; loses one

ByKathy Kiely and Blair Brettschneider, USA TODAY
July 23, 2009, 6:38 AM

WASHINGTON -- A key conservative Republican announced his support Wednesday for Judge Sonia Sotomayor while another said he'd vote against President Obama's Supreme Court pick.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Sotomayor "is definitely more liberal" than any Supreme Court nominee a Republican president would have chosen. However, he said, Sotomayor is "one of the most qualified" high court choices in decades.

"I do believe that elections have consequences, and it's not like we hid from the American people during the campaign that the Supreme Court nomination was at stake," Graham said. "The American people spoke."

Graham said he understands the concerns from fellow conservatives such as Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona about Sotomayor's speeches in which the judge appeared to suggest that gender and ethnicity might affect rulings. But Graham said he endorsed the argument she made before the committee — that her actions count for more than her words.

"When you look at her 17-year record, you find someone who has not carried out that speech," Graham said. Kyl, the Senate's deputy Republican leader, remains unconvinced and will not support her confirmation.

"Her attempt to recharacterize these speeches at the committee hearing strained credulity," Kyl said in a statement. "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. And I cannot ignore her unwillingness to answer senators' questions straightforwardly."

Graham and Kyl grilled her extensively during hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which votes next week on Sotomayor's nomination.

Obama picked Sotomayor, a federal judge in New York since 1992, to replace retiring Justice David Souter. If confirmed, she would be the third woman to serve on the high court and the first Hispanic.

Graham also said Sotomayor's life story — from a Bronx public housing project to degrees from Princeton and Yale — "is something every American should be proud of." He said it would be "a good thing" if her elevation to the Supreme Court inspired young women, especially Latinas, to pursue legal careers.

Both Graham and Kyl have close ties to Sen. John McCain of Arizona, their party's 2008 presidential nominee. McCain, up for re-election next year in a state that's 30% Hispanic, has not yet said how he'll vote on Sotomayor. He opposed her in 1998, when she was up for confirmation to her current post on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

So far, 10 GOP senators have said they will vote against Sotomayor's confirmation. Besides Kyl, they are Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, John Thune of South Dakota, Bob Bennett of Utah, Jim Bunning of Kentucky, James Inhofe of Oklahoma; Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, both of Kansas; and Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, both of Mississippi.

Graham joins Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana, Mel Martinez of Florida, and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine as Sotomayor's GOP supporters to date. So far, none of the 60 senators who caucus with the Democrats has announced plans to oppose Sotomayor.

On Thursday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed Sotomayor while the National Rifle Association continues to oppose her nomination. The NRA warned senators that it will consider their votes on Sotomayor as part of its influential annual ratings of lawmakers.