Sotomayor Nomination Splits GOP

Peter Wallsten and Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2009

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{snip} [T]he nomination Tuesday of Sonia Sotomayor to the high court brought a surprisingly muted response from the Republican senators who will actually vote on it.

The senators seemed to be taking their cues from quieter voices within the party who cautioned that opposing the country’s first Latino Supreme Court nominee would amount to political suicide.

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“A lot of Republicans are worried that [fighting the Sotomayor nomination] could be the last straw when it comes to the party’s ability to reach the Hispanic community,” said Robert de Posada, a Latino GOP strategist who said he is advising Republican staff aides on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Republicans are in a very awkward position.”

Lionel Sosa, a Texas-based Republican ad maker who designed Latino outreach for GOP presidents from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, said that opposing Sotomayor “would be one more nail in the Republicans’ image coffin in terms of Latino voters.”

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The GOP’s dilemma on Sotomayor is the latest example of the party’s internal struggle over how to reinvent itself at a time that its voter base is increasingly dominated by Southern, conservative white men.

Some moderates have argued that the party must work to recruit more minorities and broaden its ideological foundation. But many leading conservatives have rejected that and see the latest Supreme Court vacancy as a chance to beat the drum on social touchstones such as abortion, gay marriage and affirmative action–while also revving up their fundraising machineries.

Only five years ago, President Bush won reelection by performing unusually well among Latinos for a Republican, winning more than 40%. Some Democrats were fretting over how they would respond if Bush were to nominate his longtime friend, Alberto R. Gonzales, who became attorney general shortly after the election, to be the Supreme Court’s first Latino justice.

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[Obama] said that Sotomayor had shown that “it doesn’t matter where you come from, what you look like, or what challenges life throws your way–no dream is beyond reach in the United States of America.”

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Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a Judiciary Committee member who also heads the GOP’s Senate campaign strategy, told reporters that Sotomayor offered a “compelling American success story and something that we can all admire and respect about our country.”

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“While I celebrate Sonia Sotomayor’s life story,” added Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), in a common refrain, “I am troubled by some of her statements. She deserves a fair and respectful hearing.”

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By falling in line and voting for the first Latino justice, some Republicans said, the party could create opportunity from the Sotomayor nomination. Supporting her might allow the GOP to regain enough credibility with Latino voters to neutralize any political benefit to be gained by Obama.

Then, De Posada said, if Obama does not act this year on his campaign promise to pass a legalization program for millions of undocumented immigrants, Republicans could make the case to Latinos that the president failed to deliver on their main issues.

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