WASHINGTON (CN) – Sonia Sotomayor easily cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday in a 13-6 vote, sending her confirmation to a final poll on the Senate floor, which has a large Democratic majority. The votes fell along party lines, but South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, arguably the most critical of Sotomayor during nomination hearings, voted in favor, saying, “American has changed for the better with her selection.”
“I feel good about judge Sotomayor,” Graham said, and described her as “extremely well qualified.” He then explained the importance of the judicial branch’s unique role outside of politics.
But in keeping with his party, Graham admitted that “The speeches did bug the hell out of me,” in reference to her “wise Latina” comment and others similar to it.
During the hearings two weeks ago, Graham requested that Sotomayor recite the controversial statement on national television, asked her to recognize that “If I had said anything like that, they would have had my head,” and described her judicial temperament as bully-like.
All committee Democrats voted for the confirmation of Sotomayor, citing her experience, temperament, record, and life-story, while Republicans noted her controversial statements, their resulting concerns of bias, and her position on gun control and eminent domain, in voting against her.
Over the course of the hearings, Republicans consistently expressed apprehension over Sotomayor’s statement that she “would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
“Based on her record as a judge and her statements, I do not support this nomination,” Alabama Republican Ranking Member Sen. Jeff Sessions declared, facing the crowded room. “Her words and speeches are not being taken out of context,” he said. “Those are phrases and words that have meaning.”
“I’m not convinced that Judge Sotomayor has the ability to wear the judicial blindfold,” Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley stated.
“To take a 17 year judicial career and sum it up in three words is unfair” New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer replied during his statement, in reference to the “wise Latina woman” slogan.
Sessions mentioned Sotomayor’s “oddly short” decision in the famous Ricci vs. DeStefano against white firefighters who fought to keep the results of an exam on which minorities scored disproportionately lower. Sotomayor had lacked careful analysis of the “huge case,” he said in his criticism.
That ruling, issued by Sotomayor and two other judges on the 2nd Circuit, has since been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The second amendment issues “are equally troubling,” Sessions added.
“Ironically, the few decisions for which she has been criticized are cases in which she did not reach out to change the law or defy judicial precedent,” Vermont Democratic Chair Patrick Leahy said.
Many believe that the Supreme Court rewrote judicial precedent in its ruling on the firefighter case.
Democrats responded to republican worries over Sotomayor’s position on guns and eminent domain, declaring that Sotomayor is “without an agenda,” as Schumer put it.
In a past case, Sotomayor ruled that New York had a rational basis for prohibiting the possession of nunchucks, a very narrow legal question, but one that nonetheless sparked questions about gun control.
On eminent domain, Sotomayor has ruled against a man who sued because his property had been taken for the construction of a private development because he had failed to file in time.
“I find no example of infidelity to the law,” California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein added in a passionate statement. Leahy seemed to agree. “She is a restrained, fair and impartial judge who applies the law to the facts to decide cases.”
Grassley said he was worried that Sotomayor’s rulings would reflect those of Justice Souter “that I had hoped to have cured with his retirement.”
Members of both parties made special mention of Sotomayor’s background as a woman of Puerto Rican descent, many calling it a step forward.
As the hearing wound down, Finley questioned the value of the process. “I cannot say I learned everything about Judge Sonia Sotomayor that I would like to have learned,” he asserted. “These hearings have become little more than theatre.”
He protested the common evasion by nominees of questions on controversial issues, where they often say they cannot comment on matters that might come before the Supreme Court for fear an opinion will be viewed as a bias. Expressing his frustration, Finley argued that justices still vote on future cases once they have decided similar cases in the past.
The only thing left blocking Sotomayor from a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court is a Senate floor vote, where the Democrats have a 58-40 majority, with two independents who often vote with Democrats . Sotomayor’s confirmation is considered by many to be inevitable.