On the eve of their panel's vote, top Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee announced Monday that they'll oppose Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, joining a growing list of conservatives ready to vote against the judge who's virtually certain to become the first Hispanic justice.
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the committee's top Republican, and Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, its No. 2, both said Sotomayor left them doubting her pledge of "fidelity to the law," and wondering whether she'd let her personal biases and prejudices interfere with her rulings.
Their announcement solidifies near-unanimous GOP opposition on the Judiciary panel to President Barack Obama's first high court nominee. Just one Republican on the committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has said he will vote yes.
Their opposition comes as GOP senators prepare for a politically perplexing vote on Sotomayor next week by the full Senate, which is all but certain to confirm her. Many are eager to please their core conservative supporters by opposing her but fearful of a backlash by Hispanic voters, a fast-growing part of the electorate, if they do so.
A handful of Republicans have announced they're siding with majority Democrats in support of Sotomayor, the 55-year-old appeals court judge Obama chose to replace retiring Justice David Souter. The daughter of Puerto Rican parents, who was raised in a Bronx housing project and educated in the Ivy League before serving 17 years on the federal bench, is considered unlikely to alter the high court's ideological split.
Sessions accused Sotomayor of trying to "rebrand" her judicial approach in confirmation hearings, and said he doubted she had the "deep-rooted convictions necessary to resist the siren call of judicial activism" when she joins the nation's highest court. In an opinion piece published in Monday's editions of USA Today, he cited Sotomayor's rulings on property and gun rights, as well as a much-discussed rejection of a reverse discrimination claim by white firefighters, as examples of decisions that violated the Constitution and reflected "liberal political thought."
Grassley said he wasn't sure Sotomayor understands the rights Americans have under the Constitution, or that she will refrain from expanding or restricting those rights based on her personal preferences.
"There's no doubt that Judge Sotomayor has the credentials on paper to be a justice on the Supreme Court. But, her nomination hearing left me with more questions than answers about her judicial philosophy," Grassley said in a statement.
He said his vote to confirm Souter "has come back to haunt me time and again." He added that Sotomayor's vague answers on the constitutional separation of powers "left me with the same pit in my stomach ... that I hoped to have cured with his retirement."
Souter was named by GOP President George H. W. Bush, but turned out to be more liberal than most Republicans wanted.
Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., also announced Monday he would vote against Sotomayor, saying he was concerned she wouldn't set aside her biases and rule impartially. In a statement released by his office, Johanns said he was particularly troubled about Sotomayor's stance on gun rights.
The National Rifle Association - which was slow to announce its opposition to Sotomayor and initially hung back from pressuring senators to vote against her - announced last week that it would "score" her confirmation vote. That means the NRA will include the vote on Sotomayor in its annual candidate ratings, which heavily influence voters in key battleground states.
Republicans and Democrats from conservative-leaning states generally fear bucking the NRA, and strategists speculate the group's opposition has tipped the balance for some GOP senators who might otherwise have considered supporting Sotomayor. So far no Democrat has announced plans to vote no.
The anti-abortion group Americans United for Life has also weighed in against Sotomayor, writing to senators urging a "no" vote and announcing that it, too, would include her confirmation vote in its annual scorecard. The group said it was concerned Sotomayor would "undermine any efforts by our elected representatives to pass even the most widely accepted regulations on abortion and circumvent the will of the people."
This program aired on July 27, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.