Early GOP Reaction To Obama's Supreme Court Pick

5039543President Obama's selection of Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court is already garnering a range of reaction, some laudatory - New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called it a "historic and fantastic decision" - and some less so.

Republicans are offering statements in response to the choice carefully calibrated to suggest both that they have not yet ruled out supporting Sotomayor's confirmation and that they are skeptical of her ability to offer fair and impartial judgments.

Consider this from Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee: "I will focus on determining whether Judge Sotomayor is committed to deciding cases based only on the law as made by the people and their elected representatives, not on personal feelings or politics. I look forward to a fair and thorough process."

Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl, another member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, urged Democrats to allow the minority party plenty of time to examine Sotomayor's record. "Each member of the Senate has a constitutional duty to scrutinize judicial nominees before deciding whether to support their confirmation, and I will take great care in examining her record to ensure that she demonstrates personal integrity, a commitment to the rule of law, and a judicial temperament," he said.

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell also stressed the importance of a long process. "Our Democratic colleagues have often remarked that the Senate is not a 'rubber stamp,'" he said in a statement. "Accordingly, we trust they will ensure there is adequate time to prepare for this nomination, and a full and fair opportunity to question the nominee and debate her qualifications."

Conservative GOP Senator Jim DeMint was more directly skeptical, issuing a statement stating that some of Sotomayor's writings "seem to raise serious questions about her approach to the Constitution and the role of the federal judiciary." He added that he "will withhold judgment about her nomination until she has the opportunity to fully present her views before the Senate."

Senator Tom Coburn wrote that Sotomayor "deserves fair and open hearings," but he signaled that he is unlikely to back the nominee.

"It is critical that the Supreme Court reaffirm, not undermine, our Constitution's limited role for Congress and the President," he wrote. "The American people need judges who will interpret the Constitution, not rewrite it based on ideology or personal opinion."

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele suggested that Republicans will "reserve judgment" on the nominee "until there has been a thorough and thoughtful examination of her legal views."

"Supreme Court vacancies are rare, which makes Sonia Sotomayor's nomination a perfect opportunity for America to have a thoughtful discussion about the role of the Supreme Court in our daily lives," added Steele.

The RNC later sent out a document suggesting that Steele is taking a more open-minded approach than former DNC chair Howard Dean did when Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito were announced. (Here are the RNC's leaked talking points.)

GOP Senator John Thune offered a similar sentiment to his colleagues, saying "it will be important to determine if Judge Sotomayor will decide cases based on her own personal feelings and political views, or the bedrock rule of law." He added that he needs time to see if "she possesses unimpeachable integrity, high intellect, and a commitment to applying the law as it is written, rather than legislating from the bench."

And Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee - and the man who will be leading the GOP's efforts - said "we must determine if Ms. Sotomayor understands that the proper role of a judge is to act as a neutral umpire of the law, calling balls and strikes fairly without regard to one's own personal preferences or political views."

"President Obama has stated his desire to have a full court seated at the start of its next term, a reasonable goal toward which the Judiciary Committee should responsibly and diligently move," he said. "But we must remember that a Supreme Court justice sits for a lifetime appointment, and the Senate hearing is the only opportunity for the American people to engage in the nomination process. Adequate preparation will take time. I will insist that, consistent with recent confirmation processes, every senator be accorded the opportunity to prepare, ask questions, and receive full and complete answers."

As for the other side of the aisle, Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican-turned-Democrat, issued a statement applauding the selection and signaling his clear support.

"Her confirmation would add needed diversity in two ways: the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the high court," Specter said. "While her record suggests excellent educational and professional qualifications, now it is up to the Senate to discharge its constitutional duty for a full and fair confirmation process."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy issued a statement arguing that the nomination represents an opportunity "to further the spirit of bipartisanship that Americans want by guiding the nation in installing impartial, fair-minded Justices to the Supreme Court who will apply our laws and not their ideology."

He called Sotomayor's record "exemplary" and wrote that "having a Supreme Court that better reflects the diversity of America helps ensure that we keep faith with the words engraved in Vermont marble over the entrance of the Supreme Court: 'Equal justice under law.'"

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez also offered his clear support, writing that Sotomayor has "shown a vast knowledge of the law, displayed the proper temperament and gained a breadth of experience that makes her an ideal nominee."

He also stressed the importance of her ethnic background. "With this particular selection, President Obama has chosen a qualified candidate while helping to diversify a bench that has never truly reflected the diversity of our society," wrote Menendez.

And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Sotomayor "an accomplished, qualified and experienced nominee."

"I will do all I can to ensure Judge Sonia Sotomayor receives a fair and respectful hearing and the Senate's quick confirmation," he said.