Politics

Judiciary Committee delays vote on Sotomayor a week

WASHINGTON — Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans on Tuesday blocked the consideration of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor for a week, saying that they needed time to study her record, even though she's headed for near-certain confirmation and won the support of another Republican senator.

"She will be on the Supreme Court when the Supreme Court comes back in September," Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said after Tuesday's brief meeting. "It will be a bipartisan vote. It's unfortunate she'll have to wait a week."

The court is scheduled to meet Sept. 9 to consider a campaign finance case.

Minutes after the committee meeting ended, Sotomayor picked up support from another Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. Collins became the fourth Republican senator to back the 55-year-old federal appellate judge's bid to become the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.

Collins, a moderate, joined Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Mel Martinez of Florida as Republican backers. None is a Judiciary Committee member.

"I know that I will not agree with every decision Justice Sotomayor reaches on the court, just as I disagree with some of her previous decisions," Collins said.

However, she said, "I have concluded that Judge Sotomayor understands the proper role of a judge and is committed to applying the law impartially without bias or favoritism."

The Judiciary Committee has 12 Democrats and seven Republicans, so unless the GOP turns up something surprising or embarrassing, or can engineer a massive shift in public opinion, the committee is almost sure to endorse the Sotomayor nomination next Tuesday.

At least one Republican committee member, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, is thought to be seriously considering backing Sotomayor.

Committee Republicans had little to say Tuesday, only that they wouldn't unduly delay the nomination. The full Senate then will take it up, a process that Republicans think will last no longer than four days. The Republicans don't plan to filibuster.

"When we begin debate," Leahy said, "there's not a single senator, Republican or Democrat, who doesn't know how he or she will vote."

On Monday night, Sotomayor responded to written questions from members, and committee Republicans wanted time to study her responses.

"She needs to answer the questions a certain way," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

For instance, Kyl asked for further clarification about the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against New Haven, Conn., firefighter Frank Ricci, who was denied a promotion and claimed discrimination. A 5-4 Supreme Court decision overturned that ruling last month.

In her reply, Sotomayor said virtually the same thing she did at the hearings and refused to offer any personal views, saying that she was following judicial precedent.

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