WASHINGTON (BP)–The Senate Judiciary Committee forwarded the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court justice to the full chamber Tuesday in a vote nearly along party lines.
The committee voted 13-6 for Sotomayor July 28, with only Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., breaking from his party. Graham joined the 12 Democrats on the panel in supporting the nominee.
A confirmation vote by the full Senate is expected the week of Aug. 3.
A judge on the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic and third woman to sit on the high court, if she is confirmed. She is President Obama’s first nominee to the Supreme Court.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), which already had announced its opposition to Sotomayor, urged the Judiciary Committee in letters to the panel’s members on the morning of the vote to refuse to forward her nomination.
ERLC President Richard Land told committee members Sotomayor’s record showed “an inconsistent application” of her affirmation during her hearing that the U.S. Constitution should be central in judicial decisions. Land also expressed concern about her participation for 12 years on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, which filed at least six legal briefs in support of the Roe v. Wade opinion legalizing abortion.
“[H]er numerous reversals by the U.S. Supreme Court reveal that Judge Sotomayor does not have the grasp of the fine points of Constitutional law required of a member of the Supreme Court,” Land wrote. “She needs someone to pass final judgment on her decisions. No such oversight would be possible if she were to join the Court of last resort.”
The ERLC regrets it “must oppose” Sotomayor’s nomination, Land said. “She is obviously very gifted. Her personal story as well is the kind of story that compels respect and appreciation. We applaud her for her commitment and dedication. Nevertheless, we do not believe Judge Sotomayor meets the requirements for this extremely important position in our nation.”
Committee members, especially Republicans, questioned Sotomayor about her views on such controversial social issues as abortion and “same-sex marriage” during the July 13-16 hearing, but the nominee offered little in her answers to indicate how she would vote in such cases.
On Roe, she said the 1973 decision was “settled,” an answer that differed little from that given by even some conservative nominees in the past. Regarding “gay marriage,” Sotomayor said she had not prejudged the issue and would not allow her personal viewpoint to determine her decision.
Sotomayor has not ruled directly on abortion, but there is a general assumption by pro-life advocates that she is pro-choice. That exists not only because of her past statements regarding judicial philosophy but because she was nominated by a president who endorses abortion rights and is supported by pro-choice senators.
In explaining his “no” vote July 28, Sen. Charles Grassley, R.-Iowa, said, “”I’ve been a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee since 1981 and have voted to confirm both Republican and Democratic presidents’ picks for the Supreme Court…. Unfortunately, I believe that Justice Sotomayor’s performance at her Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing left me with more questions than answers.
“It is imperative,” he added, “that the nominee persuade us that he or she will be able to set aside one’s own feelings so he or she can dispassionately administer equal justice. Yet, I am not convinced that Justice Sotomayor has the ability to wear the judicial blindfold and resist having personal biases and preferences dictate her judicial method on the Supreme Court.”
Graham based his support for Sotomayor on her qualifications, competency and character, he told the other committee members.
“I am deciding to vote for a woman who I would not have chosen,” Graham said, adding the nominee is “left of center but certainly in the mainstream.”
He also said Republicans could do “no worse” than David Souter, the retiring justice Sotomayor will replace if confirmed.
Sotomayor, who grew up in a South Bronx housing project, joined the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in New York City, in 1998 as a nominee of President Clinton. President George H.W. Bush nominated her as a federal judge, and she was confirmed to that post in 1992.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press, with reporting by Michael Foust, an assistant editor of Baptist Press.