Sotomayor and the Search for Bipartisanship
By Ben Pershing
Nineteen members of the Senate Judiciary Committee spoke on the first day of Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, but as the sessions progress, one will matter more than the others -- the first panel Republican to cross the aisle and announce his support for the nominee.
Sotomayor's widely-assumed glide path to confirmation has drained much of the drama from this week's proceedings, and so what little suspense is left resides in a question that has been asked of every other major initiative President Obama has advanced: Is it bipartisan? So far, the only panel Republican to suggest that he might back Sotomayor is Lindsey Graham, who said last week, "I honestly think I could vote for her." At yesterday's hearing, Graham further hinted that he could support Sotomayor, saying: "My inclination is that elections matter ... President Obama won the election, and I will respect that."
For Sotomayor's supporters, securing at least one GOP vote in the committee is an important symbolic goal (Republican votes are easier to attract in the full Senate, which includes more GOP moderates than the Judiciary roster does). And unlike on policy issues like health care and climate change, the pursuit of bipartisanship in this arena carries no downside. When legislation is being crafted, attracting votes from the minority side means compromise. As Jonathan Cohn wrote last week, "Bipartisanship is good but a sound health reform bill is better. If winning over just one or even a handful of Republicans means gutting the bill, it's not worth it." During the stimulus battle in February, liberals were irritated that the package was scaled back to attract the votes of a handful of Republican centrists. No such tradeoff is necessary with Sotomayor -- in a sense, the bill has already been written. No one will make her promise to rule a certain way in exchange for a few GOP "ayes," nor will there be any earmarks or policy riders attached to her nomination. If Graham decides to back her, Democrats will cheer, but they don't need to compromise in order to make that happen.
July 14, 2009; 8:16 AM ET
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