Washington » For the first time in his 33-year Senate career, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch will vote against a Supreme Court nominee.
Hatch decided Friday to oppose Sonia Sotomayor when her nomination comes before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Sotomayor, who would become the high court's first Hispanic justice, is widely expected to easily win confirmation in the next few weeks.
"I reluctantly, and with a heavy heart, have found that I cannot support her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court," Hatch said in a statement. "Although Judge Sotomayor has a compelling life story and dedication to public service, her statements and record were too much at odds with the principles about the judiciary in which I deeply believe."
The Utah senator declined an interview request and his statement does not identify exactly what in her record he found objectionable, though it does indicate he largely based his decision on her judicial philosophy.
In the past, Hatch, and many Republican senators, have focused on Sotomayor's past statements they believe indicate a willingness to judge cases in part on her personal views and experiences.
Two of the most famous statements include a comment before a group of Duke University students where she said 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where she now serves, "is where policy is made," and a 2001 speech in California where she said "a wise Latina" should reach better conclusions than a white man because of her life experiences.
During her week-long confirmation hearing, Sotomayor repeatedly tried to reassure Republicans that the comments were taken out of context and that her 17-year career shows that she sticks to the law when deciding cases. Democrats came to her defense saying she has more judicial experience than any nominee in decades.
Hatch cited her "stellar resume" in his statement on Friday. He also said that he liked and respected Sotomayor and touched on her historic nomination.
"The prospect of a woman of Puerto Rican heritage serving on the Supreme Court brought great excitement to me and says a lot about America," he said. "In truth, I wish President Obama had chosen a Hispanic nominee that all Senators could support."
While most Republicans, including Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, are expected to vote against Sotomayor, a group of conservatives have indicated that they will support her. That includes Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Sotomayor's most persistent questioners during the hearing, saying on the Senate floor that even though he disagreed with some of Sotomayor's past statements "elections have consequences."
President Barack Obama's first Supreme Court nominee would replace retiring justice David Souter, a liberal member of the conservative leaning court.
Hatch, who is a previous chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has voted for left-of-center picks, such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in the past. But he said, his decision was not based on party.
"I have done my best to leave politics aside and stay true to this standard during all 12 Supreme Court confirmations I have participated in," Hatch said, saying he read her speeches, reviewed case files and met with legal experts before making his announcement.