With 17 painstakingly uncontroversial years on the federal bench, a lifetime of academic achievement, and most recently, a flawless performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sonia Sotomayor is headed for a near-certain confirmation...but the real question is, how many votes will she get?
Of the nine most recent members of the court, seven were confirmed in a Senate floor vote with more than 75 "yeas":
John Paul Stevens: 98-0
Antonin Scalia: 98-0
Anthony Kennedy: 97-0
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 97-3
David Souter: 90-9
Stephen Breyer: 87-9
John Roberts: 78-22
Only two of the current members have faced seriously close votes: Samuel Alito picked up just 58 votes in his turn before the Senate, and Clarence Thomas (who had a contentious hearing largely due to allegations of sexual harassment by former aide Anita Hill), divided the Senate 52-4.
Already, Sotomayor seems to be guaranteed to exceed Alito's totals. Democrats control a firm 60 seats, and it would be unlikely for any Senate Democrat, no matter how conservative his constituency, to choose this time to buck the White House. Additionally, 4 Republicans have already indicated that they'll support Sotomayor: Mel Martinez of Florida, Susan Collins of Maine, Richard Lugar of Indiana, and Olympia Snowe of Maine. Just two- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and John Thune of South Dakota- have publicly declared their opposition to the would-be first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.
That being noted, conventional wisdom says that Sotomayor will more than likely join the ranks of those who sailed - rather than squeaked- through the nomination process. There are a few reasons why that's the case.
By most accounts, Sotomayor replaces a man on the bench- retired Justice David Souter- whose ideological inclination isn't dissimilar to her own. The composition of the Court stays almost exactly the same with her confirmation. So it's hard to play the "extreme liberal" card.
But there's also a serious political problem. Republicans can certainly pick now to oppose Barack Obama. There's no real danger of halting Sotomayor's confirmation, so now might be a good time to take a principled stand. But Republicans are going to have to take a lot of "principled stands" in the next few months, including upcoming votes on national health care legislation. There's a fine line between principle and obstructionism, and the GOP can't afford to spend any more time being labeled as "The Party of No" while Democrats claim the mantle of change.
Furthermore, there's just not a lot to stand on. Sotomayor has a plethora of judicial and life experience, and a fairly moderate record up to this point. Nor has there been any scandalous history that she's had to answer for. It's clear that any opposition is purely political.
Finally, the GOP has an ongoing Hispanic problem. Both parties know that Latino Americans are the fastest growing ethnic segment of the population, and harnessing those votes will mean assembling a meaningful record to appeal to that electorate. Right now, it's up for grabs. George W. Bush took a big chunk in 2000 and 2004, while Barack Obama dominated in 2008. But add up the policy positions: the GOP opposes immigrant driver's licenses, supports the border fence, favors deportation of alien parents with legal citizen children, favors excluding children of illegal immigrants from state-run children's health insurance plans, and the list goes on. Without commenting on the legitimacy of any of those positions, that's a lot to harbor and still convince Hispanic voters to register as Republicans. Blocking the first Hispanic American Supreme Court justice- despite her undeniable qualifications- certainly doesn't help.
All that considered, Sotomayor likely clears 70 votes with ease. She'll pick up support from Senators who represent dense urban centers and border states. She'll likely lose support throughout the conservative strongholds in the South and Midwest.