Senators, who have final say on Sotomayor, express caution

McClatchy NewspapersMay 26, 2009 

President Barack Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to succeed retiring Justice David Souter.

Sotomayor must first be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and then confirmed by the full Senate, a process that's expected to take much of the summer. Here are the reactions of senators, by state:

ALASKA

Alaska's senior senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski, congratulated Sotomayor on her nomination, but added that she looks forward to a full debate before deciding whether to vote to confirm the appellate court judge as the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court.

"As the Senate moves forward with her nomination, I will examine and review very closely Judge Sotomayor's qualifications and background for a court appointment,” Murkowski said in a statement.

Democrat Mark Begich has been in Afghanistan and Pakistan "immersed in everything military" said his spokeswoman, Julie Hasquet. However, in a conference call from Pakistan, he did say he was glad to hear of the nomination and "looking forward to the hearing process."

In 1998, both of Alaska's then-senators, Republicans Ted Stevens and Murkowski's father, Frank Murkowski, voted to confirm Sotomayor as an appellate court judge.

Erika Bolstad

CALIFORNIA

Sotomayor can count on support from both of California's Democratic senators, who were quick to endorse her.

Sen. Barbara Boxer said Sotomayor's life story is "an inspiration," while Sen. Dianne Feinstein called her "a very solid and tested woman."

"President Obama has nominated an exemplary and compelling individual who has a history of bipartisan support," Boxer said.

Feinstein lauded Sotomayor's experience and called the nomination historic, noting she would be the first Latina and only the third woman ever to sit on the court. She predicted that Sotomayor would receive the required 60 votes necessary to avoid a Republican filibuster.

"Therefore, any unnecessary delay will only keep the court from getting ready for the new term and inhibit the Senate's ability to focus on other important priorities like the economy, energy and health care," Feinstein said.

Rob Hotakainen

FLORIDA

Sen. Mel Martinez, who backed former President George W. Bush's more conservative choices for the Supreme Court and was considered a potential nominee for an earlier opening, said he hoped for a "fair and thorough" confirmation process.

Added the first Cuban-American elected to the U.S. Senate: "I take great pride in seeing the nomination of an Hispanic person to serve in this high position — a historic first."

Republicans were divided over Sotomayor when she faced Senate confirmation in 1998. Among the 25 Republicans backing her was then-Florida Sen. Connie Mack.

Gov. Charlie Crist, the leading Republican candidate to succeed Martinez in the Senate next year, said of Sotomayor's nomination: "I'll take a look at it."

The only prominent Florida Republican to issue a statement critical of Sotomayor was former House Speaker Marco Rubio, who is aggressively courting the party's conservative wing as he challenges Crist for his party's nomination.

"Judge Sotomayor deserves a fair hearing and respectful treatment, but there is much in her legal background that is troubling and demands scrutiny and honest discussion," Rubio said.

Lesley Clark

IDAHO

Idaho's two Republican senators say they don't know enough yet about Sotomayor to say whether they'd vote to confirm her. Both Sen. Mike Crapo and Sen. Jim Risch said Tuesday they want to review Sotomayor's record first.

Neither sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is expected to hold confirmation hearings on Sotomayor in July. If the committee of 12 Democrats and 7 Republicans confirms Sotomayor, her nomination will then go to the full Senate for a vote.

In a letter he has been sending to constituents who have been asking about Souter's successor, Crapo has been telling them that he will "closely examine the person's background and qualifications," said his spokesman, Lindsay Nothern.

Crapo also said he wants to see an "intelligent and qualified" justice who will "keep personal biases out of judicial decision-making."

Brad Hoaglun, a spokesman for Sen. Jim Risch, said that the senator has asked his staff to gather background information on Sotomayor so he can review it. So far, Risch has taken no position and won't do so until he has had an opportunity to review Sotomayor's record, Hoaglun said.

Sotomayor has faced a previous Senate confirmation vote. In 1998, the Senate voted 67-29 to confirm Sotomayor's appointment to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Both of Idaho's then-senators, Republicans Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne, voted against her confirmation as an appellate court judge.

Erika Bolstad

SOUTH CAROLINA

Sen. Jim DeMint was more critical than his Republican colleagues Tuesday about the nomination.

While most Republicans took a cautious approach, DeMint sounded warnings about Sotomayor's record and philosophy as a federal district and appellate judge from New York.

"Some of her writings seem to raise serious questions about her approach to the Constitution and the role of the federal judiciary, but I will withhold judgment about her nomination until she has the opportunity to fully present her views before the Senate," said DeMint, who isn't on the Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who's on the judiciary panel, was more guarded in his response to Obama's choice.

"I do not know Judge Sotomayor," Graham said. "I look forward to meeting with her and discussing the important issues confronting the court."

Graham was among the Senate Judiciary Committee members Obama called last week to discuss his pending high court nomination. Graham was out of the country Tuesday, but his aides said they didn't believe Obama had named Sotomayor during their phone talk.

Graham said he intends "to be fair and firm in (his) questioning of the nominee" during the committee confirmation sessions.

"The hearings can be a valuable public service, as they give us a window into the nominee's philosophy and disposition," Graham said. "I hope we will have a meaningful opportunity to explore the qualifications, judicial temperament and judicial philosophy of Judge Sotomayor."

James Rosen

TEXAS

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, reacted to the selection of Sotomayor with caution but still managed to raise "red flags" to reporters Tuesday about her record.

"It is my hope that the process will allow her to prove herself to possess the impartiality, integrity, legal expertise and judicial temperament that we have come to expect from those that sit on our highest court," Cornyn said.

Cornyn said he wasn't pre-judging the first Hispanic nominee to the court but said he had questions about her ability to put aside any "liberal" positions; to refrain from making policy and to apply judicial temperament.

He pointed out a YouTube segment at a Duke University conference where Sotomayor said that the Court of Appeals is "where policy is made."

Cornyn said that, "she must prove her commitment to impartially deciding cases based on the law, rather than based on her own personal politics, feelings, and preferences."

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, also took a "wait and see" approach Tuesday in a statement but Hutchison actually voted against Sotomayor in 1998 to become a judge on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a statement about the 2009 nomination, Hutchison said, "As the Senate carefully reviews the qualifications of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, our chief concern must be her commitment to the rule of law."

Maria Recio

WASHINGTON STATE

Calling her "unquestionably qualified," Democratic Sen. Patty Murray said Tuesday that in nominating Sotomayor, Obama picked someone who was an "unparalleled example of the true spirit and determination of the American dream."

In a statement, Murray lavished praise on Sotomayor, though she didn't come right out and endorse the nomination. Murray, as she has with previous Supreme Court nominees, said she wants to wait and listen before making a final decision.

"I will evaluate Judge Sotomayor's nomination based on the same standards I use for all judicial appointments," Murray said. "Is she ethical, honest and qualified? Will she be evenhanded, fair and independent and will she uphold our rights and liberties?

"I want to know that when an individual comes before the court, that he or she will receive a fair hearing and that justice will be rendered according to the law," Murray said.

Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell also praised Sotomayor.

"With this nomination, President Obama has demonstrated the breadth and depth of our judicial bench," Cantwell said in a statement.

Neither Murray nor Cantwell serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Les Blumenthal

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