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Sens. McConnell and Alexander (AP/Photo by Susan Walsh)

Debating the inevitable

Supreme Court | Senate debate over Sonia Sotomayor's nomination begins with a slightly bipartisan victory expected

WASHINGTON-Late Tuesday, the Senate began debating the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to be the next associate justice of the Supreme Court, with the expectation that she will be easily confirmed after the dust settles and before senators return home this weekend for their August recess. Republicans say Sotomayor has demonstrated that she will not be an impartial justice, while Democrats say she is a moderate, mainstream judge.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sotomayor's background, rising from a Bronx housing development to becoming a federal judge, was impressive, but not enough to win the Senate's full support.

"In her writings and in her speeches, Judge Sotomayor has repeatedly stated that there is no objectivity or neutrality in judging," McConnell said in the Senate chamber in the morning before the debate began. "She has said her experiences will affect the facts she chooses to see as a judge. These statements suggest not just a sense that impartiality is not possible, but that it's not even worth the effort."

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Democrats fully expect to make her the first Hispanic and third woman on the high court and say the Supreme Court will be boosted by her experience as a trial judge.

Before the debate began, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., led a handful of Republicans in pledging their support for the New York judge because he said her background and federal judicial record made her well qualified for the position. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is a close friend of Graham's, disagreed, saying Sotomayor has "a long record of judicial activism."

At least six Republicans are planning to vote for Sotomayor, but that would still be much less bipartisan support than Chief Justice John Roberts received in 2005, when he received 22 Democratic votes.

"I am disappointed more of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are not likely to support this outstanding nominee, particularly in light of her record and qualifications," said Majority Leader Harry Reid, who commended Republicans who have pledged to vote for Sotomayor, especially Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., for his bipartisan leadership on this issue.

Alexander said even though Sotomayor's political and judicial philosophy differed from his own, especially regarding Second Amendment rights, he would vote to confirm her because "she is well qualified by experience, temperament, character, and intellect."

Democrats plan to push the confirmation vote through by the end of the week, hoping to end the summer legislative sessions on a high note after their recent setbacks in pushing healthcare reform. Despite the seemingly inevitable result, however, most Republicans are promising to remain opposed to President Obama's nominee.

"Though she attempted to walk back from her long public record of judicial activism during her confirmation hearings, Judge Sotomayor cannot change her record," McCain said. "I do not believe she shares my belief in judicial restraint."

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