The chances are dwindling that a substantial number of Republicans will vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, after a key GOP senator announced his opposition this morning.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) ended months of public indecision when he announced he would vote against confirmation, eliminating one of the last, best chances Sotomayor had of winning over prominent conservatives. Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, had previously said he had concerns about her nomination but had stopped short of saying he would oppose her.
The announcement means the vote on whether to confirm Sotomayor will likely stick close to the partisan divide, continuing the trend of polarization on judicial nominations.
The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider Sotomayor’s nomination Tuesday, and only one Republican member — Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) — out of the seven on the committee has said he plans to support her. The full Senate is expected to vote on the nomination next week after as many as four days of debate, and five Republicans have pledged their support. That’s only one more vote from the minority party than Justice Samuel Alito Jr. received in 2006, when four Democrats voted to confirm him.
Some conservative groups have ratcheted up the pressure on GOP senators, and on conservative Democrats, to oppose Sotomayor. The National Rifle Association has announced its opposition and said it would include the confirmation vote in its scoring of members’ records.
Three of the Republicans supporting Sotomayor — Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Richard Lugar (Ind.), and Olympia Snowe (Maine) — are among the least conservative Republicans in the Senate. A fourth, Sen. Mel Martinez (Fla.), cited their shared Hispanic heritage as one reason for supporting her.
Sessions’ announcement followed a statement last week from another key Judiciary Committee member, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who supported both Clinton nominees to the Supreme Court. Hatch, a former Judiciary Committee chairman, said he would reluctantly oppose Sotomayor’s nomination. (Update: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), another senior committee member, said late Monday afternoon he also plans to vote no.)
Among those noting the minimal Republican support are the gamblers on Intrade, a Web site that allows people to bet on the outcome of public affairs. As of this afternoon, the betting market said there was only a 10 percent chance that Sotomayor would receive 75 or more votes, down from a high of almost 80 percent just after her confirmation hearing.