Nearly a month after she was nominated, Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation for the Supreme Court is about as close to a sure thing as the Obama White House could have hoped for. The Court of Appeal's Judge has had few hiccups -- certainly little of note -- since her name was put forward following Justice David Souter's resignation. Republicans in the Senate, meanwhile, have exhibited little political will to attack the first Hispanic nominee for the Court.
Absent a politically disastrous revelation, indeed, Sotomayor seems almost assured to end up on the bench. Pre-ordination, however, does not necessarily preclude drama. And as the Sotomayor hearings approach, and as a vote on her candidacy looms beyond there, the politics of confirmation still promise to be compelling.
For starters, who on the Republican side of the aisle will support her appointment? Democrats are planning for quite a few, with one high-ranking Hill aide telling the Huffington Post that he expects the tally to reach 70 senators backing Sotomayor's nomination.
"It's tough to see too many Republicans voting against the first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee who is now walking around with a cast on her leg," said the aide.
With Sens. Robert Byrd or Ted Kennedy absent from the Senate (another Hill staffer said the party is now operating under the premise that it has 58 caucus members) but with Al Franken likely to be seated, 11 GOPers will have to cross party lines for the 70 vote target to be reached. Operatives working on the Sotomayor nomination are fairly guarded when talking about the numbers. But the names that come up most frequently are the centrist Republicans as well as those GOPers from states with large Hispanic populations.
The two Maine Senators seem to be the most likely pair to support Sotomayor. For starters, both Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe aren't known for pushing the partisan envelope. Moreover, both have a history of granting deference to the president when it comes to his judicial or even executive branch appointments. During the Bush years, for example, the two senators supported cloture and confirmation during the filibuster attempts on the nominations of John Bolton to the post of Ambassador to the United Nations, Dirk Kempthorne to the post of Secretary of Interior, and Stephen Johnson, to the post of Administrator of the EPA. Collins, unlike Snowe, voted against cloture on Obama's nominee for undersecretary of interior, David Hayes, who was filibustered by the Senate but ultimately confirmed after an agreement was struck in the Senate.
But the GOP targets on Sotomayor extend well beyond -- indeed, far away from -- the Pine Tree state. The other likely yes votes, according to conversations with sources in the White House and on the Hill, reside primarily in the Southwest where Hispanic populations comprise a major portion of the voting public and have turned Democratic.
In Florida, where Obama won 57 percent of the Hispanic vote, the retiring Senator Mel Martinez seems like a logical vote for Sotomayor. In Nevada, where Obama received 76 percent of the Hispanic vote, Sen. John Ensign is being targeted on Sotomayor. And in Texas, Sen. John Cornyn has shown little willingness to push a hard anti-Sotomayor line, telling Politico: "You know, we're just going to do our job under the Second Amendment: Section 2 of Article 2 of the Constitution, to advise and consent."
There is, in addition, another category of Senate Republican whose vote on Sotomayor could be complicated by electoral politics. Sen. John McCain is running for reelection in 2010 and has a long history of support in the Hispanic community. But his primary challenger this time -- Chris Simcox, the founder of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps -- could compel him to make a more conservative statement when the Sotomayor nomination comes to a vote. The same holds true with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who has said she is running for the Governor's seat of Texas. Said one Democratic source, "I'm alone on this, but I bet [Hutchinson] votes against Sotomayor. She is running in the gubernatorial primary and needs to move to the right."
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