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Senate in Day Two of Debate on Sotomayor


The U.S. Senate is in its second day of debate on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to serve on the Supreme Court. Democrats responded to continuing Republican criticisms of Sotomayor's record, while an additional Republican added his name to the list of those supporting the nomination.

On the second day of debate all signs continued to point toward an easy confirmation win for Sotomayor, the 55-year-old federal court judge nominated by President Barack Obama earlier this year.

Although most of the 40 Senate Republicans are likely to vote against her, the decision Wednesday of Missouri Senator Kit Bond added to the number of Republicans who have committed to voting for her.

Senator Bond, who is one of several Republicans retiring from the Senate next year, said while he respects and agrees with the legal reasoning others in his party used to oppose Sotomayor, lawmakers have an obligation to show deference to a president's choice of a nominee.

"If some are saying that a Democratic president should not have a liberal justice, does that mean a Republican president should not have conservative justices? That is not something I could support," he said.

Additional Republicans, particularly those like Bond who do not risk political damage from a no vote, may join in supporting the nomination.

Judge Sotomayor, who would become the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court, is all but certain to achieve unanimous support from Democrats.

Democrats responded to Republican assertions that she would bring a left wing political bias to the court, and allow her personal views to influence her decisions, criticisms driven by some of Sotomayor's past public statements and writings.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy pointed to statements that other Supreme Court nominees made in their confirmation hearings regarding how their personal background help prepare them for the court.

"Judge Sotomayor is certainly not the first nominee to discuss how her background has shaped her character," he said. "Many recent justices have spoken of their life experiences as an influential factor in how they approach cases."

Republicans supporting Sotomayor voiced concern about partisanship, under Democratic or Republican presidents, playing an increasingly significant role in Senate confirmation debates.

Florida Republican Mel Martinez suggested that fellow Republicans were wrong in using the 2005 vote by then Senator Barack Obama's against conservative judge John Roberts to be Supreme Court chief justice as justification for voting against Sotomayor.

Saying even Sotomayor's worst critics failed to cite a single instance in which she strayed from sound judicial thinking, Martinez said Senators have an obligation to give deference to a president's assessment of a nominee.

"We sometimes confuse the role of the Senate. Elections have their consequences," said Martinez. "Some of her writings and her statements indicate that her philosophy might be more liberal than mine. But that is what happens in elections."

Hard core opponents of Sotomayor, such as Republican Mike Crapo, pointed to what they called indications from Sotomayor's past statements that she would allow her Puerto Rican heritage and experiences to influence her judgments.

"When discussing her gender and heritage, Judge Sotomayor said my experiences will affect the facts that I choose to see as a judge," he said. "In another speech she said personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. This is simply shorthand for judicial activism and making policy rather than applying the law."

Democrat Christopher Dodd said criticisms focused on a fraction of thousands of cases Judge Sotomayor was involved in rather than what he called her enormous body of exemplary judicial work.

"So out of thousands of cases, eight items were brought up," he said. "You could do that with anybody, but someone who has had 17 years on the bench, going through thousands of cases, if that is the basis of going against their nominee I don't know that anyone could ever pass the test here."

Though some Republicans are concerned about potential political damage from opposing the nation's first Hispanic nominee for the Supreme Court, one key Senate Republican dismissed that suggestion.

Senator John Cornyn told reporters that Republican's disagreements with Sotomayor were not personal, and said it should not be assumed that Republicans will continue to lose support from Latino voters.

In announcing his opposition to Sotomayor, Senator Cornyn said he hopes that when she gets to the Supreme Court she will prove concerns raised by Republicans unjustified.

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