Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor won her first public pledges of support from Senate Republicans and one prominent GOP opponent, after a smooth performance at her confirmation hearings that has placed her firmly on track to become the high court's first Latina and the first Democratic-named justice in 15 years.
Three centrist Republicans announced they'd support Sotomayor even as the Senate's minority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said he'd vote no. The split was a vivid reflection of the divisions in the GOP as the party faces a tricky vote on Sotomayor, wary of alienating its conservative base but equally afraid to anger Hispanic and women voters.
Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the Senate's most senior Republican, Mel Martinez of Florida, its lone Hispanic Republican, and Olympia Snowe of Maine all announced they'd vote for Sotomayor, praising her qualifications and her testimony at four days of Judiciary Committee hearings this week.
"I was pleased that Judge Sotomayor repeatedly recognized in her responses this week that 'the job of a judge is to apply the law' rather than independently make policy, and that it is the law, rather than ones own sympathies that 'compels conclusions in cases,' Snowe said.
McConnell planned a speech Monday in which he'll say the 55-year-old appeals court judge's past statements demonstrate an "alarming lack of respect for the notion of equal justice," and question her ability to separate her sympathies and prejudices from her decisions.
McConnell joins other GOP conservatives who are lining up firmly against Sotomayor. But with solid backing from Democrats, who enjoy a lopsided majority, and a growing number of Republicans, there's virtually no doubt the judge will be confimed as the 111th Supreme Court justice.
Republicans have said they won't try to block or even delay a vote to confirm her, which is expected in early August.
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said Thursday that neither he nor any GOP senator he knows of is interested in holding up the vote. The panel is likely to cast the first votes on Sotomayor's nomination in late July.
Republican-turned-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a member of the committee who had hinted strongly that he would support Sotomayor, made it official Friday with a statement in which he said he'd vote for her and urge colleagues to do the same.
Sotomayor "displayed intellect, restraint and judicial demeanor" at her hearings, Specter said.