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Gun Debate Lingers Behind Sotomayor Confirmation

As the Senate begins deliberation today on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, the outcome of the vote is pretty clear. As the Los Angeles Times points out, “the only remaining questions are whether the National Rifle Assn. can claim to have swayed votes against her and whether President Obama can claim a victory for bipartisanship.” Looks like the answers will be yes and no — to both questions.

It’s the first time the NRA has weighed in against a Supreme Court nominee and warned senators that their votes affect how the NRA “scores” their records. Although that’s clearly had some affect, eight of the 36 senators endorsed by the NRA in their last elections have said they will vote to confirm her. Those include Democrats Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Tim Johnson of South Dakota, as well as Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Mel Martinez of Florida.

The NRA has also wavered on how strongly it will weigh this vote, perhaps realizing that it would alienate some key supporters. NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told the LA Times that the Sotomayor vote was important but might count for less than a future Senate vote on gun control. “The NRA has yet to determine the weight of this vote, but we have informed people that this vote will count,” he said. “Sounds to me like the NRA has been getting some pushback of its own,” observes Christy Hardin Smith of Firedoglake.com.

Meanwhile, gun control groups are relishing the notion that the NRA may be losing its sway. “This vote is a test of the conventional wisdom that they are an 800-pound gorilla capable of scaring up votes,” Doug Pennington, a spokesman for the Brady Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, tells the LA Times. “Well, so far, they have been unable to keep the votes of the senators they endorsed in the last campaign.”

The gun issue was a hot topic at Sotomayor’s hearing, of course, with senators grilling her on why she would not acknowledge that the right to bear arms was an individual “fundamental” right enforceable against the states. Sotomayor answered that she was just following settled court precedent, and carefully avoiding what Jeff Sessions has called “the siren call to judicial activism.”

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