So far today, most Senate Republicans have refrained from criticizing Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee, on any matter of substance. The language so far has been all about scrutinizing her record and giving her a fair hearing.
But at some point, at least some opposition to Sotomayor is sure to develop. Judging at least by the opposition of 29 Republican senators to her appeals court nomination in 1998, she seems unlikely to get the 96-3 vote Ruth Bader Ginsburg received in 1993. Yet from their position of impotence, the Republicans have few options in mounting any effective opposition to Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court, should they ultimately decide to do so in numbers.
There has been some talk of preventing a quorum in the Senate Judiciary Committee — a minority member’s presence is required. Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.), a member of that committee and the Senate minority whip, told me a few minutes ago that he opposes that approach.
“That’s not my preference,” said Kyl. “My view has always been that the nominee should go to the floor for a decision by the full Senate. Even if I decide to oppose the nominee — I might vote against the nominee in committee, but not in such a way as to prevent the nomination from going to the floor. Unless there were also several Democrats who were in opposition.”
Then there’s the matter of what could happen after the nomination reaches the floor. Kyl said that Republicans are incapable of a filibuster in this Senate (from a practical perspective, at least, even if they still technically have the numbers). But he added that he agrees broadly with the “Gang of 14″ precedent in the Senate — “extraordinary circumstances” could justify a filibuster.
Kyl, like most other Republicans who have made statements today on Sotomayor, refrained from commenting on specific opinions she has written. “As a lawyer, and someone who has actually practiced before the Supreme Court, I do know enough to do the research before you express an opinion,” he said. One thing Kyl was willing to discuss, though, was Sotomayor’s remarks on the suitability of people with certain races and ethnicities to serve on the court — namely, her statement that “I 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.”
“I suspect she’s going to hear a lot about that,” said Kyl. “That was not a smart thing to say.”