No. 3 Republican to back Sotomayor for high court

The Senate’s No. 3 Republican announced Thursday he’d break with the rest of his party’s leaders to support Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, who’s in line to become the first Hispanic justice.

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander said he was voting for President Barack Obama’s nominee despite his differences with her, particularly on gun rights.

“Even though Judge Sotomayor’s political and judicial philosophy may be different than mine, especially regarding Second Amendments rights, I will vote to confirm her because she is well qualified by experience, temperament, character and intellect to serve,” Alexander said in a speech on the Senate floor.

Alexander, a conservative, is only the sixth Republican to publicly line up with majority Democrats to back Sotomayor, a native of Bronx, N.Y. and a federal appellate court judge. She’s virtually guaranteed to be confirmed in a vote next week, and is expected to join the Supreme Court in time for an earlier-than-usual meeting in September to hear a campaign finance case.

The others Republicans supporting her include fellow conservative Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and moderate Sens. Dick Lugar of Indiana, Mel Martinez of Florida, and Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

The impending vote on Sotomayor has confronted the GOP with a political dilemma. Many senators are torn between their desire to please a conservative based that opposes Obama’s nominee and a fear that doing so could alienate Hispanic voters, a fast-growing part of the electorate.

Alexander noted in his speech that as a governor, he had named women and African Americans to the bench, as well as people from both parties.

“In the same way, it is my hope that my vote now not only will help to confirm a well-qualified nominee but will help to return the Senate to the practice, only recently lost, of inquiring diligently into qualifications of a nominee and then accepting that elections have consequences, one of which is to confer upon the president the constitutional right to nominate justices,” Alexander said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.