The only Hispanic Democratic US Senator, Robert Menendez, and leaders of major Latino groups warned Wednesday that Republicans will "pay a price" for voting against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
"I believe the Republicans will pay a price for saying 'no' to this judge," and to President Barack Obama's policies in general, Menendez said in Spanish at a news conference in anticipation of Sotomayor's all-but-certain confirmation.
The Cuban-American New Jersey lawmaker said "maybe less than 10" of the chamber's 40 Republicans will vote to confirm the 55-year-old appeals court judge, who is poised to become the first Hispanic and third woman on the Supreme Court.
Democrats have, at least on paper, the 60 votes needed to land the daughter of Puerto Rican migrants the lifetime appointment. A handful of Republicans have said they will join them, leading to expectations that she will be confirmed this week before lawmakers leave for a monthlong recess.
Republican Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri announced he would vote for confirmation, bringing to seven the number of Republicans backing Sotomayor.
"I will support her, I'll be proud for her, the community she represents, and the American Dream she shows is possible," he said. "I urge my colleagues to do the same."
Some Republicans have worried that opposition to Sotomayor may hurt the party with Hispanic voters, who could play a decisive role in the 2010 mid-term elections and the 2012 presidential vote after that.
"In last year's elections, the road to the White House in large part came through the Latino community," Menendez said. "We need to know who is with us, and who is not."
But Hispanic Americans do not vote as a bloc, and more than 60 percent, are Mexican-American.
Because the Hispanic sociological group is the fastest-growing U.S. minority, lawmakers are keen to try to line up support.
Menendez also accused Senate Republican leaders of doing everything they could to oppose Sotomayor's confirmation, and called opposition to her despite her qualifications "a slap and an offense to the Hispanic community."
Janet Murguía, head of the National Council of La Raza, said Sotomayor's nomination has galvanized and united the diverse U.S. Hispanic population and cautioned Republicans about the coming vote.
"I think the Republican Party is at a crossroads with our Latino community," she said. "This vote will matter and it will be long remembered."
Murguia underlined Sotomayor's rise from a poor neighborhood in New York City's Bronx borough to the summit of the legal profession and said the judge is an inspiring example to Latinos everywhere.
"This is a vote in support of everyone who believes in that American dream," she said.
Since the beginning of the often harsh debate over Sotomayor, Republicans have underlined that Democrats blocked a vote to confirm a Hispanic nominee, Miguel Estrada, to be an appeals court judge.
"Opponents of the Estrada nomination were ruthless, and eventually succeeded in driving him to withdraw from consideration after more than two years of entrenched opposition," said Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"Because he had been nominated by a Republican, Estrada got no points for his compelling personal story, despite the fact that he had come here as a child from Honduras, went to Harvard Law School, clerked on the US Supreme Court, and served as a prosecutor in New York and at the Justice Department," he said.
Democratic Sens. Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd could be no-shows at the vote because of health reasons.
Meanwhile, a new CNN poll released Wednesday found that 51 percent of the respondents surveyed favored Sotomayor's approval. Thirty-six percent opposed her appointment, and 14 percent had no opinion, the survey found.
Copyright © 2009 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.