South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham on Wednesday became the first Republican senator from a Deep South state to say he would vote to confirm Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
Judge Sotomayor is all but assured of approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee and confirmation by the full Senate, after a hearing that revealed her conservative critics had come up with little in the way of substantive objections to her record as a jurist.
The question with regard to President Obama's first nomination for the high court has always come down to a simple test: How many Republicans will oppose the first Latina nominee, and only the third female nominee, to serve on the Supreme Court simply because she is not a rigidly right-wing judicial activist in the mold of Chief Justice John Roberts?
That makes Graham's endorsement an important one. He's a relatively mainstream -- if sometimes maverick -- conservative who sits on the Judiciary Committee, and his rejection of the creepy campaign by the hard-right to block the first Latina nominee to serve on the high court was a highlight of the Judiciary Committee hearing.
"I believe she follows precedent, and I believe she is not an activist judge," Graham says of Judge Sotomayor.
Perhaps as significantly, Graham has opted against his region in an emerging split between northern and southern Republicans over the nomination.
With a Judiciary Committee vote expected next week, and a full Senate vote before the August recess, members are beginning to announce their preferences with regard to the nomination. And the process is revealing.
Judge Sotomayor is attracting support from Abraham Lincoln Republicans who represent states that stood with the union during the Civil War: Mainers Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Indiana's Richard Lugar.
On the other hand, senators from states of the old Confederacy, as well as border states, have been in the forefront of opposition to the nomination. The latest southern senator to announce against Sotomayor was Mississippi's Roger Wicker. He joined Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions in announcing his intention to vote "no" to confirming the nominee. Senate minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Jim Bunning, both from the border state of Kentucky, have also announced their opposition.
Before Graham made his move Wednesday, there was only one "southerner" in the Sotomayor camp. And he was, by any measure, an outlier. Retiring Florida Senator Mel Martinez, has offered an endorsement. But he comes from a Confederate state that has shed many of its southern trappings. And Martinez, the first Cuban-American to serve in the US Senate and the "the sole minority GOPer in the Senate" bluntly says that ethnic pride is a part of his equation. "As an Hispanic American, I take great pride in Judge Sotomayor's historic achievement," the senator explained. "Given her qualifications and testimony this week, I intend to vote in favor of her confirmation."
Graham and Martinez are right about Sotomayor.
But how many of other Dixie-state senators in the GOP caucus will hear the call of reason and conscience above the song of the south?