WASHINGTON (CNN) – Two key Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee announced their opposition to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor on Friday, a further sign the party's conservative base is uniting against President Barack Obama's first high court pick.
Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah - the former chairman of the committee - and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas - head of the party's Senate campaign committee - announced on the Senate floor their intention to vote against the 55-year-old federal appeals court judge.
Hatch's decision came as somewhat of a surprise. The veteran Republican has voted for every high court nominee in his 32-year Senate career - including President Bill Clinton's two liberal choices, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.
Hatch had praised Sotomayor's "credentials and experience" and the fact she would be the first Hispanic justice. But despite the nominee's compelling life story, Hatch said that controversial off-the-bench comments by Sotomayor troubled him.
"I reluctantly, and with a heavy heart, have found that I cannot support her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court," Hatch said in a written statement.
"In truth, I wish President Obama had chosen a Hispanic nominee that all senators could support. I believe it would have done a great deal for our great country. Although Judge Sotomayor has a compelling life story and dedication to public service, her statements and record were too much at odds with the principles about the judiciary in which I deeply believe."
Cornyn candidly admitted his opposition to Sotoamayor could carry political risks in his home state, where one-third of the electorate is Hispanic.
"Voting to confirm a judge - this judge or any judge - despite doubts would certainly be the politically expedient thing to do, but I don't believe it would be the right thing to do," he said on the Senate floor.
"Many of her public statements reflected a surprisingly radical view of the law," he said.
He argued that the "stakes are simply too high for me to confirm someone who could address all these issues from a liberal, activist perspective."
Seven other Republicans have previously said they would vote against Sotomayor. Five mostly moderate GOP lawmakers announced their intention to back her. A vote is scheduled Tuesday in the Judiciary Committee, followed by an expected final floor vote a week later. There is little doubt about the outcome, and Republican Party leaders have said no filibuster is planned.
Conservative groups have been pushing Republican senators to rally hard against Sotomayor. The National Rifle Association stressed the intensity of its opposition to her nomination on Thursday, warning senators that their votes will be considered in its future candidate evaluations.
Among those supporting Sotomayor is conservative Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, whose folksy questioning of the nominee during last week's confirmation hearings attracted wide attention. His decision brought a rebuke from the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network (JCN), which slammed Graham's support "based upon his apparent willful blindness to her record, both on the bench and off, of indulging her own ethnic and gender biases, personal political views, and liberal agenda in the name of 'law.'"
JCN's counsel, Wendy Long, dismissed Graham's "cynical, pandering comments during the Judiciary Committee hearings, which were clearly aimed at drawing attention to himself rather than illuminating the role of the court in our constitutional republic."
Some Republican moderates have privately expressed concern that attacking Sotomayor could hurt the party's efforts to attract more Hispanics and women, especially since her confirmation seems assured.
Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comments were cited by Cornyn and others as reason for opposing her. The Texas Republican said Sotomayor was less than forthcoming when explaining her remarks in a 2001 speech.
Sotomayor told a group of Hispanic law students that "I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experience, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."
She has echoed the sentiment in related talks she has given over the years.
Cornyn said the remarks contrasted sharply with her pledge during her confirmation hearings to rule on cases without personal bias.
"Who is the real Judge Sonia Sotomayor?" he asked.
–CNN Congressional Producer Ted Barrett contributed to this report.