WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham drew praise from across the country Wednesday for his speech explaining his Senate Judiciary Committee vote for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
Graham, a second-term senator and military lawyer from Seneca, was the only Republican to back President Barack Obama's high court pick Tuesday in the judiciary panel's 13-6 confirmation vote.
"I gladly give her my vote because I think she meets the qualifications test that was used in (confirming Justices Antonin) Scalia and (Ruth Bader) Ginsburg," Graham said.
Editorial writers from newspapers as diverse as the Greenville News and the Los Angeles Times said Graham was eloquent and gutsy at the hearing.
"It was a profile in statesmanship, if not courage," wrote the Times.
Graham's stance on Sotomayor, who would be the first Hispanic Supreme Court member, "shames his colleagues on the panel and provides a model for Republicans in the Senate as a whole," the paper said.
Graham, one of five Republican senators who've said they will vote to confirm Sotomayor, "offered his colleagues a lesson in political science," the Times said, when he told them:
"What I'm trying to do with my vote is to recognize that (during the Bush administration) we came perilously close to damaging an institution -- the judiciary -- that has held this country together in difficult times."
Calling Sotomayor "extremely well qualified" and "of good character," Graham rebuffed other Republicans who've accused Sotomayor of being a judicial activist and effectively writing law from the bench.
"That's based on a 12-year record where I haven't seen this activism that we all dread and should reject," he said.
Graham minimized the significance of Sotmayor's now-famous "wise Latina woman" quote, saying it and other things she's said in speeches must "be put in context of her judicial record."
"I do not want to set a standard here ... where people aspiring to be a judge will never have a thought, never take on an unpopular cause," he said.
Graham closed his comments by saying: "If she, by being on the court, will inspire young women -- particularly Latina women -- to seek a career in the law, that would be a good thing. And I believe she will. I wish her well. America has changed for the better with her selection."
A New York Daily News analysis compared Graham favorably with "GOP automons" opposed to Sotomayor. His remarks, it said, were "spoken in the best traditions of the U.S. Senate."
Closer to home, the Greenville News, in the conservative Upstate of South Carolina, said, "Every now and then, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham demonstrates why rabidly partisan Republicans can't stand him and independent-minded people applaud his approach to politics."
Even Dana Milbank, a Washington Post satirist who regularly skewers politicians of all stripes in his widely read "Washington Sketch" column, wrote: "Over the white noise of charge and countercharge, only Lindsey Graham's words soared."
During his comments, Graham referred to his role in the Gang of 14, a bipartisan group of senators who prevented the Senate from changing a decades-old rule requiring 60 votes to block a president's judicial nomination.
Saying "the law should be a quiet place," Graham criticized political attacks that would "make it just an extension of politics in another form."
U.S. District Chief Judge Gerald Rosen, a 1990 appointee of President H.W. Bush to the federal bench in Detroit, said Graham's remarks Tuesday had pleased him.
"His manifest respect for the institution of the judiciary and for the integrity of the nomination and confirmation process should be appreciated by all those who value the abiding principles underlying the rule of law and the independence of the judicial branch," Rosen said.
South Carolina's other senator, Jim DeMint, didn't buy Graham's arguments on behalf of Sotomayor.
DeMint, a first-term Greenville Republican, said publicly Wednesday for the first time that he will vote against Sotomayor in the full Senate confirmation vote.
"Unfortunately, Judge Sotomayor has not inspired confidence that she will consistently base her decisions on our Constitution and our laws," DeMint said.
DeMint said Sotomayor hadn't met the required standards on two of the most important issues for conservatives -- abortion and gun rights.
During her confirmation hearings and in their private meeting, DeMint said, Sotomayor failed to affirm the Second Amendment constitutional right to own arms, and "she said she had never even thought about whether an unborn child has any rights at all."
A video of part of Graham's remarks: