Hutchison and Sotomayor: How Will KBH Vote?

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7/30/09 Update: Now we know how she voted – Hutchison Breaks Promise, Opposes Sotomayor

First off, congratulations to Judge Sonia Sotomayor, nominated by President Barack Obama to the Supreme Court of the United States. When confirmed, Justice Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic justice, and only the third woman to serve on our nation's highest court.

Thus, I turn with interest to our senior senator, our female senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, to see how she will vote on Sotomayor's historic nomination, especially as KBH is likely facing an election in Texas of her own in the next year or so.

While John Cornyn, our junior senator and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, offered early praise of the historic nomination, mixed with caution that any nominee would be closely scrutinized, Hutchison immediately went on the attack.

In an AP story spread far and wide across Texas, Hutchison expressed early doubts about Sotomayor:

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison finds “troubling” statements she says Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has made in the past 11 years that federal judges are able to “change policy.”

KBH is referring to a comment Sotomayor made in the past about how appeals courts are where judges apply the law. This is hardly an ideological or political statement. As MediaMatters quickly pointed out:

…numerous legal experts have stated that Sotomayor's comment was, in the words of Hofstra University law professor Eric Freedman, “the absolute judicial equivalent of saying the sun rises each morning” and “thoroughly uncontroversial to anyone other than a determined demagogue.”

A determined demagogue, you say? Hutchison, you may recall, voted against Sotomayor when she was nominated to the 2nd Circuit in 1998. She was one of 29 Senators, all Republican, to oppose the nomination. So it would not be shocking for her to vote against her now.

Hutchison said her vote against Sotomayor in 1998 was about Sotomayor's “judicial activism” as a district court judge.

“Judicial activism” is a Republican buzzword for “not overturning Constitutional statutes that tend to treat all human beings equally.” It also tends to mean “siding against corporate greed, racism, and sexism; finding for the individual citizen rather than conservative hegemony.” Sometimes “judicial activism” also means “allowing a woman to make her own medical decisions.” (Furthermore, DailyKos points out that it is far-right justices that are vastly more likely to overturn Constitutional statutes. Sounds more activisty to me. But anyways.)

The Houston Chronicle quotes more:

“I will listen to the full content of her record, but I will not vote for anyone that I believe has a record in the last 11 years of judicial activism,” Hutchison said.

So, KBH has a quandary, in voting on a judicial nominee who is highly, highly likely to be approved. As widely noted, Sotomayor is as highly qualified as any nominee has been for the bench in decades. Her education is impeccable, her experience unmatched. She has not shown a record that can be considered overly political or ideological. Opposition can thus only be mustered on partisan lines against the nominating President, or because of naked identity politics.

And she's not just voting as any rank-and-file Republican, she's voting as one about to square off in a primary battle against Rick Perry, a candidate who has shown next-to-zero restraint in pandering to the far-right fringe. With these early statements, is KBH trying to pander to the right-wing voters she'll need in her primary? Is she going to vote against Sotomayor, and make sure that Perry can't accuse her of supporting “liberal judicial activists?”

What if Hutchison wants to woo women and Latinos over to the Republican primary (especially if we lack a suitable Democratic contest) to make sure we don't suffer 4 more years of Rick Perry? A vote against Sotomayor can call that strategy into question for sure.

And what if she does vote against Sotomayor? If Hutchison makes it through her primary unscathed, would that vote alienate many of the women and Hispanic voters she would want to court in the general election?

So, I guess for KBH the question is this: does she vote like a hard-line conservative ideologue against Sotomayor and hope it brings enough votes in the short-term and doesn't alienate others long-term? Or does she vote to confirm the most qualified, meritorious Supreme Court nominee we've seen in nearly a decade?  


About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.


  1. No surprise here
    It's sad to see Hutchinson going after Sotomayor who would only be the third woman to sit on the Highest court (not to mention being the first Hispanic). Am I surprised, no, but I think all Texans should sit back and really consider whether or not they would want Kay acting on their behalf as Governor if elected. Especially with such a blatant acceptance of partisan party politics driving her actions.

    • Stayer Remorse
      I'll bet she is wishing she had already resigned.

      But here is the thing–there is NOTHING she can say, do, vote, file, pass, block, etc that will appease the red meat right. She might as well write it off. She should stand up and be the moderate that talks about all the silliness of DC and how she has always tried to be a balanced and rational voice in DC, and THEN talk about how it is Rick Perry who has imported DC press release politics into Austin.

  2. KBH Moderate?
    She's another right-wing Republican, though less looney than Perry, Patrick, Chisum et al., and a certain Nay vote on this one.

    • Disagree
      She is not that right wing. She angers a lot of Republicans with her votes. I am not saying she is a liberal, but she is reasonable and does not always vote with Jim DeMint. Of the GOP senators, at least half are more conservative than she is. She is a Rockefeller republican.

      I am not a fan, but I don't think the label fits, and it dilutes the meaning of the label for gems like McLeroy, Betty Brown, Perry, and Craddick.

      • DW-Nominate score
        DW-Nominate scores are a way to rank somebody as extreme liberal (-1) to extreme conservative (+1). In the last Congress, Bernie Sanders was -.747, Tom Coburn was +.890, the average Republican was +.444, and the average Dem was -.441. Arlen Specter was +.091.

        KBH was +.374, or almost identical to John McCain (.376). So McKinney is right — more than half the GOP senators were more conservative than KBH. Still, she's a lot closer to John Cornyn (.552) than to Olympia Snowe (.034).  

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