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McCain decides to vote no on Sotomayor

August 4, 2009 |  9:16 am

Federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor on day three of her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain has made it official.

He really likes federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Thinks she's got an excellent resume. An inspiring life story. Heck, he even thinks she has the professional qualifications to be a Supreme Court justice.

But yesterday he took to the Senate floor to explain that he's voting against her nomination. He suspects she's one of those activists judges who will legislate from the bench.

"Regardless of one's success in academics and in government service, an individual who does not appreciate the common-sense limitations on judicial power in our democratic system of government ultimately lacks a key qualification for a lifetime appointment to the bench," McCain explained.

Hard to know what role politics played in the decision.

McCain is up for reelection next year in a state with an increasing Latino population, so the vote could spell trouble. In fact he went out of his way during Monday's speech to note that he backed the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the federal appeals court, a Bush administration nomination ultimately pulled because of Democratic opposition. As he himself explained to CNN after the election last year, "Unless we reverse the trend of Hispanic voter registration, we [Republicans] have a very, very deep hole that we've got to come out of."

On the other hand, the National Rifle Assn. has for the first time weighed in on a judicial appointment, targeting Sotomayor as hostile to the 2nd Amendment and warning senators thinking about voting yes that the NRA will use that vote against them. The powerful gun lobby may have swayed McCain, along with Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, where South Carolina's Lindsey Graham -- ironically a key McCain ally -- was the only Republican to back Sotomayor.

With the Senate scheduled to vote on the nomination this week, most think Sotomayor will be confirmed as the nation's first Latina and third female justice.

Still, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called it "disappointing" that McCain decided not to back Sotomayor just after visiting the White House and "talking about bipartisanship."

There's a fair amount of turn-about-is-fair-play here.

While a senator, Barack Obama voted against former President George W. Bush's nominations of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.  and Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. Saying it was fair to hold the nominees accountable for their ideology as well as their qualifications, the future president also voted in favor of filibustering Alito's confirmation vote.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor on Day 3 of her confirmation hearings in July. Credit: Charles Dharapak / Associated Press

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