WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Friday that he'll oppose Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, lending his voice to a chorus of conservatives who've vowed to vote no on making the appellate judge the court's first Hispanic justice.
McConnell's announcement followed several days of Sotomayor testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, during which several panel members tried to unravel Sotomayor's views on race and determine if ethnic loyalty rather than judicial oath would influence her rulings.
A day earlier, Kentucky's junior senator, Republican Jim Bunning, said he also found the jurist "unsuitable to be a member of the United States Supreme Court."
In opposing Sotomayor, McConnell alluded to what he called "an alarming lack of respect for the notion of equal justice."
Never miss a local story.
"This is particularly important when considering someone for the Supreme Court since, if she were confirmed, there would be no higher court to deter or prevent her from injecting into the law the various disconcerting principles that recur throughout her public statements," McConnell said Friday in a written statement. "For that reason, I will oppose her nomination."
McConnell cited New Haven, Conn., firefighter Frank Ricci, the lead plaintiff in a landmark case that challenged the city's refusal to promote white firefighters after African-Americans and all but one Hispanic didn't score well on a promotion test, as an example of inequality in Sotomayor's judicial rulings. Other Republicans have brought up the Ricci case repeatedly as an example of judicial activism and overreaching.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Ricci's favor last month, overturning an appellate court decision with Sotomayor in the majority.
If, however, Judge Sotomayor were to become a Supreme Court justice, there would be no backstop," McConnell said in his statement. "Her rulings would be final. She'd be unencumbered by the obligation of lower court judges to follow precedent. She could act more freely on the kinds of views that animated her troubling and legally incorrect ruling in the Ricci case. That's not a chance I'm willing to take."
Bunning, in a statement released Thursday, said he found Sotomayor's "wise Latina woman" comments troubling.
"Even though (the comments) have been discussed many times over, they are still relevant and speak to her views on the role of judges. . . . She used the 'wise Latina woman' phrase in at least four other speeches, most recently in 2004," Bunning said. . . . She has said that the notion of impartiality on the bench is 'an aspiration' and has gone on to claim that 'by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to law and society.'
"When President Obama began discussing what sort of person he wanted to nominate to Supreme Court, he put a premium on the nominee having 'empathy,'" Bunning said. "Well, it appears that he got his wish."
Still, Republicans acknowledge Sotomayor is likely easily win confirmation. Democrats control 12 of the 19 Judiciary Committee seats and 60 Senate seats.
Sotomayor picked up her first Republican Senate supporters Friday, as Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, Mel Martinez of Florida and Olympia Snowe of Maine announced they'd vote for her.
She's also expected to win other Republican votes. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Judiciary Committee member, appeared to be leaning in her direction during the confirmation hearings, while other Republicans have offered praise.
(David Lightman contributed to this article.)
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
For more McClatchy politics coverage visit Planet Washington
For more McClatchy Supreme Court coverage visit Suits & Sentences