When Jeff Sessions Voted for Sonia Sotomayor

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On October 2, 1998, the full Senate voted on Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and confirmed her nomination 67-29; all of the nay votes came from Republicans. That’s not much of a surprise.

But just a few months earlier, in March 1998, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 16-2 in favor of Sotomayor’s nomination, with only Jon Kyl and John Ashcroft, both Republicans, voting against her. The Republican committee members who voted for Sotomayor included Strom Thurmond, Orrin Hatch and Jeff Sessions, but each of whom flipped his vote when Sotomayor’s nomination went to the full Senate. (And when President George H.W. Bush nominated her for an open distict court spot in 1992, the Judiciary Committee—then chaired by Joe Biden—and the full Senate unanimously approved her nomination.)

So what happened between March and October 1998?

Republican senators have been blocking Judge Sotomayor’s elevation to the appeals court for a highly unusual reason: to make her less likely to be picked by Mr. Clinton for the Supreme Court, senior Republican Congressional aides said in interviews.

[…]

Senate Republican staff aides said Trent Lott of Mississippi, the majority leader, has agreed to hold up a vote on the nomination as part of an elaborate political calculus; if she were easily confirmed to the appeals court, they said, that would put her in a position to be named to the Supreme Court. And Senate Republicans think that they would then have a difficult time opposing a Hispanic woman who had just been confirmed by the full Senate.

In other words, politics happened.

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