CourtSide - The FindLaw Breaking Legal News Blog

Will the NRA Shoot Down Sotomayor's Supreme Dream?

The National Rifle Association fired off its first salvo against the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court during the confirmation hearings when it issued a release stating its opinion that Sotomayor had a "hostile view of the Second Amendment and the fundamental right of self-defense guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution."

A week later, the NRA announced in a letter to Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that it would factor senators' votes on Sotomayor into its future candidate evaluations.

These candidate evaluations, which essentially rate how pro- or anti-gun the NRA perceives a candidate to be, are very effective tools for mobilizing the NRA's dedicated members to either support or oppose a candidate.  Senators, especially those in Southern and Western states where gun rights are a very emotional and sensitive issue, are terrified of ending up on the wrong side of these evaluations, especially when approaching a closely contested race.
That's why the NRA's announcement has the GOP and conservative Democrats caught in a bind.  Senators from states with rising Latino populations don't want to oppose the historic nomination of a woman who would become the first Latino Supreme Court justice, but they also don't want to risk offending their core, gun-loving constituency. 

A few Democratic Congressmen are so worried about this that they fired off a reply letter to the NRA asking them to reconsider their consideration of the Sotomayor vote in the candidate evaluations.  Reps. Joe Baca of California, Solomon Ortiz and Silvestre Reyes of Texas and John Salazar of Colorado are concerned that the NRA's position will both "alienate Hispanic NRA members" and stick Senators with the unpleasant choice of offending either their pro-gun voters or their Hispanic voters.

The NRA is unlikely to back down from it posturing over the Sotomayor nomination, which leaves Senators in the uncomfortable position described by the Representatives above.  Will it be enough to block the confirmation, though?

Probably not.  The Democrats will be able to preserve enough votes to ensure that Sotomayor is confirmed to the Supreme Court.  They've also already swayed at least one Republican, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), in favor of Sotomayor, so there should be no problem securing the required votes to send Sotomayor to the High Court.

Politicaly watchers will be closely examining any Democratic defections for signs of fissures within the Democratic caucus, however.  Likewise, politicians and pundits alike will watch the Republican side of the aisle for indications as to the growing importance of the Latino electorate versus the traditional strength of the pro-gun lobby.

The NRA's feint, therefore, isn't designed to have any real impact on the confirmation itself; instead, it's a shrewd move designed to test where Senators' allegiances lie and expose any weaknesses that the gun lobby can exploit down the line.  The vote on Sotomayor's confirmation may hand the NRA a loaded gun - one pointed straight at the heads of Republican and conservative Democratic senators.

And there's no telling when the NRA might pull the trigger.

See Also:
Sotomayor clears Senate committee, but gun lobby pressuring Republicans to vote no on Senate floor (LATimes)
Target: Sonia Sotomayor (Washington Post)
NRA Opposes Sotomayor , Cites 'Hostile View' of Gun Rights (WSJ)