WASHINGTON — The National Rifle Association's threat to punish senators who vote for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has been met with a shrug by Democrats from conservative-leaning states and some Republicans who are breaking with their party to support her.
The gun rights group has never before weighed in on a Supreme Court confirmation battle. But President Barack Obama's first pick for the court, Sotomayor, is expected to easily win confirmation in a vote this coming week that could deflate the long-accepted truism in Washington that you don't cross the NRA.
Senators voting "yes" will include A-plus-rated and NRA-endorsed Democrats Max Baucus and his fellow Montanan, A-rated Jon Tester, as well as A-rated and NRA-endorsed Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
That's not to say that the NRA's decision to wade in hasn't had an impact.
Many Republicans who were considered possible "yes" votes for Sotomayor — including Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, and Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison — have come out against her after the NRA's announcement, citing gun rights concerns as an important reason.
Some Democrats who have high NRA ratings, including Alaska Sen. Mark Begich and Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, are on the fence.
GOP leaders, particularly Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate's top Republican, may have helped nudge the NRA into taking a stand on Sotomayor's nomination.
At the conclusion of the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearing for Sotomayor two weeks ago, the NRA came out in opposition to her, calling her "hostile" to the Second Amendment right to bear arms. In her testimony, Sotomayor declined to call gun rights "fundamental" — meaning that they apply to states as well as the federal government — although she said she would have an open mind on the issue if it came before the court.
As a federal appeals court judge, Sotomayor was part of a panel that ruled this year that the Second Amendment doesn't limit state controls on guns — only federal ones. That was in keeping with a 19th century Supreme Court precedent and subsequent appellate court rulings.