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Committee approves Sotomayor amid less hubbub than hearings

Author: Anne Elliott
Created: 31 July, 2009
Updated: 13 September, 2023

Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON – The final action of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Supreme Court confirmation process – its Tuesday 13-6 favorable vote – drew smaller crowds than the confirmation hearings two weeks ago.

 Rather than sitting at an imposingly high table at the far side of the room, the 19 committee members sat in the middle of the room, while voting to move Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the full Senate for a vote.

 Fewer members of the public attended the committee vote than the hearings. Although there were about 60 seats available for the public, some were empty. Many of the seats were taken by congressional interns.

 There were also fewer spaces available for the press and fewer reporters and photographers attending. The nominee herself was not present.

 As with the confirmation hearings, the committee members often repeated what other committee members had already said. Democrats generally praised Sotomayor’s accomplishments and said they believe she is an impartial and moderate judge. Republicans tended to criticize her speeches and handling of cases about gun and private property rights. Almost all of the senators began their speeches by thanking all involved for the civility of the hearings.

 There were a few standouts, though.

 Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said that he disagreed with Sotomayor’s controversial speeches about judging, but said that wasn’t the reason for his “no” vote.

 “I can’t vote for her because she wouldn’t defend what she said,” he said.

 In the hearings, Sotomayor said her “wise Latina woman” statement did not reflect what she meant to convey.

 Coburn said he thought she really believed what she said and should have stood up for her beliefs while demonstrating her ability to ignore her views and judge fairly.

 As the only senator to vote against the party line, Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., repeated his belief that elections should matter, and elected president should be allowed to nominate judges who share their views. He also said he didn’t want the law “to become an extension of politics,” with senators voting to confirm judges on purely partisan lines.

 “You want to reward good lawyers when you find them, whether you agree with them or not,” said Graham, who is a lawyer in the Air Force Reserves.

 Sens. Coburn, Herb Kohl, D-Wisc., and Arlen Specter, D-Pa., all expressed concern about the trend among Supreme Court nominees to refuse to offer opinions. Specter was the only one to openly criticize Sotomayor, saying she should at least have answered his question about the number of cases the Supreme Court decides each term.

 The court has been hearing fewer cases in recent years than it did historically.

 After voting on Sotomayor, the committee voted on nominees for four law-enforcement positions in a single motion. Although Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said there were some concerns about some of those nominees, no one voted against allowing the Senate to vote on confirmation.