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Robert Longley

Sotomayor Senate Confirmation: Not Her First Rodeo

By June 1, 2009

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When Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's first Supreme Court nominee sits down to be grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and later by the full Senate, it will actually be her third ride through the Senate confirmation process.

Sotomayor first went through the Senate confirmation process in 1991, after President George H.W. Bush nominated her to serve as a federal judge for the Southern District Court of New York. Both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate gave her their unanimous approval. As result, Sotomayor became the youngest judge in the Southern District and the first Hispanic federal judge in New York.

It was much less fun for Sotomayor in 1997, when President Clinton nominated her to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan. This time, Senate Republicans held up Sotomayor’s nomination for a full year, fearing what they felt to be her “judicial activism” as demonstrated in her past rulings on cases about gays and prison gangs. Finally in 1998, Sotomayor won Senate confirmation in a 69-27 vote.

In her 1997-1998 confirmation hearings, Sotomayor won the votes of all Senate Democrats along with the votes of seven Republicans who are still in the Senate: Robert Bennett (Utah), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), Judd Gregg (N.H.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Richard Lugar (Ind.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine).

What do some of those Republicans who voted for her in 1998 say about Sotomayor now as a potential Supreme Court Justice?

  • Orrin Hatch of Utah says, “I will focus on determining whether Judge Sotomayor is committed to deciding cases based only on the law as made by the people and their elected representatives, not on personal feelings or politics. Judges must decide cases based on the law, not on their personal views or opinions.”

  • Olympia Snowe of Maine said, “I share the view that the proper role of the judiciary is one of interpreting the Constitution and acts of Congress, not legislating from the bench. As such, I will carefully evaluate Sonia Sotomayor’s record and temperament in making my determination.”

Sotomayor will also face questioning from three Republican Senators who opposed her appellate court appointment in 1998: Jeff Sessions (Alabama), Charles Grassley (Iowa) and Jon Kyle (Arizona).


  • Sen. Sessions says, “Of primary importance, we must determine if Ms. Sotomayor understands that the proper role of a judge is to act as a neutral umpire of the law, calling balls and strikes fairly without regard to one’s own personal preferences or political views.”

  • Sen. Grassley says, “The Judiciary Committee should take time to ensure that the nominee will be true to the Constitution and apply the law, not personal politics, feelings or preferences. The last 25 years of Senate review of nominees has been entirely different than the first 200 years, and today the Senate can't just be a rubber stamp for President Obama's nominees.”

  • Sen. Kyle says, “Each member of the Senate has a constitutional duty to scrutinize judicial nominees before deciding whether to support their confirmation, and I will take great care in examining her record to ensure that she demonstrates personal integrity, a commitment to the rule of law, and a judicial temperament.”

Sen. Kyle also reminds us that the Senate spent 73 days debating the qualifications of Chief Justice John Roberts and 93 days grilling Associate Justice Samuel Alito, and that Senate Republicans expect to be allowed an equal amount of time to review Judge Sotomayor’s nomination.

Also See:
The Senate Confirmation Process
The Supreme Court’s Diverse Women (Women’s Issues)

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