jueves, 6 de agosto de 2009
Voting largely along party lines, the Senate on Thursday confirmed Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the 111th justice of the Supreme Court. She will be the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the court.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was expected to administer the oath of office to Judge Sotomayor, 55, in the next few days, with a formal ceremony likely in September. She succeeds Justice David H. Souter, who retired in June.
Democrats celebrated the successful nomination and relatively smooth confirmation process as a bright spot in a summer when they have been buffeted by several challenges, including rocky progress on their attempts to overhaul the nation’s health care system, President Obama’s falling approval ratings, the climbing unemployment rate and other lingering economic problems.
Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation was never in much doubt, given Democrats’ numerical advantage in the Senate. But the final vote — 68 to 31 — represented a partisan divide. No Democrat voted against her, while all but 9 of the chamber’s 40 Republicans did so. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, is ailing and did not vote.
During three days of debate on the Senate floor, Republicans labeled Judge Sotomayor a liberal judicial activist, decrying several of her speeches about diversity and the nature of judgments, as well as her votes in cases involving Second Amendment rights, property rights and a reverse-discrimination claim brought by white firefighters in New Haven.
“Judge Sotomayor is certainly a fine person with an impressive story and a distinguished background,” the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said this week. “But a judge must be able to check his or her personal or political agenda at the courtroom door and do justice evenhandedly, as the judicial oath requires. This is the most fundamental test. It is a test that Judge Sotomayor does not pass.”
But Democrats portrayed Judge Sotomayor as a mainstream and qualified judge whose life — rising from a childhood in a Bronx housing project to the Ivy League and now the Supreme Court — is a classic American success story. And they called her judicial record moderate and mainstream.
“Judge Sotomayor’s career and judicial record demonstrates that she has always followed the rule of law,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Thursday. “Attempts at distorting that record by suggesting that her ethnicity or heritage will be the driving force in her decisions as a justice of the Supreme Court are demeaning to women and all communities of color.”
From the moment Mr. Obama chose her in May, many political strategists warned Republicans that opposing the first Latina nominated to the Supreme Court would jeopardize the party in future elections. In the waning days of the debate, some Democrats sought to portray Republican opposition as a grave insult to Latinos.
“Republicans will pay a price for saying ‘no’ to this judge,” Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, said in Spanish at a news conference Wednesday.
And in July, the National Rifle Association, which historically has stayed out of judicial nomination fights, came out against Justice Sotomayor and said it would include senators’ confirmation vote in its legislative scorecard on gun-rights issues for the 2010 election — a pointed threat to Democrats from conservative-leaning states.
But attempts to appeal to interest-group politics in the confirmation process largely faltered.
The final vote was “a triumph of party unity over some of the interest group politics that you would have expected to play a bigger role,” said Curt Levey, executive director of the conservative Committee for Justice, which opposed Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation.
Many Republicans took pains to emphasize that their vote against Judge Sotomayor did not mean they were anti-Latino. They praised her credentials and her biography, saying they were troubled only by what they said was her judicial philosophy.
Before announcing his opposition to her nomination, Senator John McCain of Arizona, last year’s Republican presidential nominee who has been sympathetic to calls by Latinos and others for reforming the nation’s immigration laws, first described her as an “immensely qualified candidate” with an “inspiring and compelling” life story. And he dwelled on his support for Miguel Estrada, an appeals-court nominee of President George W. Bush whom Democrats blocked from a vote even though “millions of Latinos would have taken great pride in his confirmation,” Mr. McCain said.
Many other Republicans echoed Mr. McCain’s approach in explaining their votes. On Thursday, for example, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, spoke at length about the “unfair and disgraceful” treatment of Mr. Estrada, while criticizing Judge Sotomayor’s record.
“I wish President Obama had chosen a Hispanic nominee whom all senators could support,” Mr. Hatch said.
Juan Hernández, who served as Hispanic outreach coordinator for Mr. McCain’s presidential campaign, said most Republicans had not done enough to persuade Hispanics that they were welcome in the party.
“It’s not good enough to give two or three lines about Hispanics and then say, ‘No, I’m not going to vote for Sotomayor,‘ “ he said. “We’re just losing Hispanics left and right. It’s amazing, in the Republican Party — we’re doing it to ourselves.”
But Manuel A. Miranda, chairman of the Third Branch Conference, a coalition of conservatives who opposed the Sotomayor nomination, said Hispanics were ideologically diverse and would understand that Republican opposition to a particular liberal-leaning judge did not mean they were hostile to Hispanics — especially since her confirmation hearing was civil, he said.
“Hispanics are not going to be offended by the opposition because Republicans didn’t torment her,” Mr. Miranda said. “Republicans can take this vote because they treated her well.”
For many Hispanic voters, the symbolism of the first Latina joining the Supreme Court — and the memory of who opposed her — could be all that lingers, said Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza, an Hispanic advocacy group.
“This is a singularly definitive historic moment,” she said. “So it is a vote, I think, that will matter to the Latino community and will be remembered by the Latino community.”
What also remains to be seen is whether Democratic senators — especially those from conservative-leaning states and those who have received high ratings from the National Rifle Association in the past — will pay a political price for voting to confirm Judge Sotomayor despite the group’s opposition.
Andrew Arulanandam, an N.R.A. spokesman, declined to comment about the vote, but he did say it was too early to know how much weight his group would give to the Sotomayor vote when putting together its scores and endorsements for the 2010 election cycle.
Still, despite the seeming impotence of the gun-rights group’s ability to intervene in the nomination fight, Mr. Miranda said he believed the threat of lower ratings might have had led more Republicans to vote against Judge Sotomayor, noting that many had cited her alleged lack of support for Second Amendment rights in explaining their votes.
“That was a seismic shift,” Mr. Miranda said.
Matthew Dowd, a former political adviser to Mr. Bush who had warned Republicans to be civil, disagreed. He said the Supreme Court confirmation process had simply become increasingly polarized along party lines, regardless of a nominee’s qualifications or the stance of groups like the National Rifle Association.
“My view is that gun rights had nothing to do with it,” he said. “Supreme Court nominations have become dodgeball games, with Democrats lining up on one side and Republicans lining up on our side.”
By CHARLIE SAVAGE