Under the Dome

Burr announces he'll vote against Sotomayor

July 30, 2009 

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr will oppose Sonia Sotomayor's nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that he admires her qualifications but that he fears she would impose her personal beliefs in setting legal precedent.

"My fear is that she has been unable to separate her personal belief system from that of the letter of the law," Burr said in a prepared statement.

Sotomayor, who would be the first Hispanic member on the court, has been widely criticized by Republicans for a speech in which she said "a wise Latina" might sometimes make better decisions than a white male.

Burr is a conservative Republican who nonetheless praised Sotomayor's experience when she was first nominated. He faces re-election next year in a state with a growing population of Hispanic voters.

Hispanics account for 70,565 registered voters in the state, nearly double the number of two years ago. Their numbers still represent just 1 percent of registered voters.

Burr met with Sotomayor last week and said in his statement that she brings impressive academic credentials and a lengthy judicial record. But he said he worries about whether she will apply a strict interpretation of the Constitution.

"While she stated in her testimony that she would adhere to legal precedent, her judicial record suggests otherwise," Burr said. "In several cases, she has clearly ignored precedent or cited precedent that did not apply to the facts at hand, and I believe let her personal beliefs cloud her judgment."

Burr's office did not respond by press time to a request for the specific examples he cited in his statement.

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, previously said she would support Sotomayor.

The Senate could vote on Sotomayor's nomination before its August recess.

Hagan wants texting ban

Hagan helped introduce a bill Wednesday that would prohibit texting while driving, though she told reporters that she has done it.

"I bet everyone here has texted, and we all realize it's dangerous," Hagan said during a news conference.

The bill would require states to enact bans on texting while driving or risk losing federal funds.

It comes after research released by Virginia Tech this week saying that drivers are many times more likely to get into a wreck when texting.

Other sponsors include Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

No names, please

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh says the organization will not say who attended a health-care round table and fundraising dinner Monday at a Washington steakhouse where Burr was a featured speaker.

"We don't release names of those who attend private events," Walsh said, adding that the committee will disclose its contributors as required under federal campaign law.

"This policy is no different than countless fundraisers by President Obama," Walsh said.

Burr, who sits on the Senate health committee, was one of three GOP senators who spoke at the event.

For checks of $2,000 per political action committee, up to 35 attendees were offered seats at a "Roundtable on Healthcare Issues" at Charlie Palmer's steakhouse. A more exclusive group of 20 could stay for dinner at a cost of $5,000, according to the invitation posted by the Sunlight Foundation.

Also speaking were Republican Sens. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, and Mike Enzi of Wyoming, who sits on the health and finance committees.

Burr's campaign consultant earlier said the Burr campaign had no details about who attended.

By Washington correspondent Barbara Barrett

bbarrett@mcclatchydc.com or 202-383-0012

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