WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. John McCain, his party's failed 2008 presidential contender, announced Monday he'd join the vast majority of the GOP to vote against Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who's on track to be confirmed this week as the first Hispanic justice.
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McCain's decision, the day before the Senate debates President Barack Obama's first high court nominee, underscored the degree to which Republicans — even those who, like the Arizonan, represent large Hispanic populations — have turned against Sotomayor. Conservatives argue she'd bring her own biases to the bench.
At the same time, Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska — who had been publicly on the fence on Sotomayor and under pressure from gun rights activists to oppose her — announced he'd side with Democrats and vote "yes."
Just six Republicans have announced they'll break with their party to vote for Sotomayor, while nearly three-quarters of GOP senators say they'll oppose her. No Democrat has said she or he will oppose Sotomayor.
Some in the GOP have faced a tough call about how to vote on Obama's nominee, torn between an impulse to please their conservative base by opposing her and a fear that doing so could alienate Hispanic voters. The vast majority are lining up with their core supporters against Sotomayor, despite her near certainty of confirmation.
Sotomayor, 55, the daughter of Puerto Rican parents, was raised in a South Bronx housing project and educated in the Ivy League before her success in the legal profession and 17 years on the federal bench. Obama chose her to replace retiring Justice David Souter, a liberal named by a Republican president, and she's not expected to alter the court's ideological balance.
McCain: Resume isn't enough
McCain called her background "inspiring and compelling," but added that, "an excellent resume and an inspiring life story are not enough to qualify one for a lifetime of service on the Supreme Court."
"She is a judge who has foresworn judicial activism in her confirmation hearings, but who has a long record of it," McCain said.
Nelson, on the other hand, said Sotomayor's rulings show she's no activist, and won't bring bias to the bench. He told his home state Lincoln Journal Star that he believes the judge has "a great respect for the law," and that he's convinced despite staunch opposition to her among gun rights activists that she recognizes "an individual's Second Amendment right to bear arms."
The Nebraskan has a perfect rating from the National Rifle Association, which has threatened to downgrade senators who support Sotomayor in its annual candidate ratings.
McCain has a spottier record with the NRA, garnering him just a "C" grade, but the group endorsed his presidential bid.
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