John Cornyn (R-TX) is one of the more interesting senators to watch during Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings. As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who represents a state with a large Hispanic population, he's at the nexus of Republican political concerns over the Sotomayor proceedings. The party wants to compete for Hispanic votes, opposing the first Hispanic nominee may hurt them; at the same time, conservative groups want to make Sotomayor a rallying cry for the party's core conservative base. Cornyn has to win the votes, raise the money, and turn out the conservatives if he wants to win Senate campaigns in 2010.
He hasn't been as tough on Sotomayor as some of his Republican colleagues. Unlike Lindsey Graham (R-SC) yesterday, who repeatedly cut Sotomayor off and made insinuations about her judicial philosophy, Cornyn actually apologized for beginning to interrupt her today. He restricted his questions to "do you stand by your words?" and "can you explain what you meant?"--even if his questions covered the same material as his fellow partisans: the "wise Latina" quote, the New Haven firefighters case, whether judges change the law, abortion, etc.
A former Texas Supreme Court justice himself, Cornyn's most pointed criticism came over her ruling in the firefighters case.