Sat, Aug 08, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Sotomayor secures confirmation

HISTORIC DECISIONThe federal judge is set to be sworn in today as the US’ 111th Supreme Court justice. She will be the third woman and first Hispanic on the court

AP , WASHINGTON

US Supreme Court Justice-designate Sonia Sotomayor smiles as she leaves the Manhattan Federal Court on Thursday.

PHOTO: AP

Sonia Sotomayor won confirmation on Thursday as the first Hispanic US Supreme Court justice in a Senate vote that capped a summer-long debate heavy with ethnic politics.

Sotomayor, US President Barack Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee, will be sworn in today as the court’s 111th justice, third woman and first nominee by a Democrat in 15 years.

The Senate vote was 68-31.

The 55-year-old daughter of Puerto Rican parents was raised in a New York public housing project and educated in elite universities before rising to the highest legal echelons, spending the past 17 years as a federal judge.

A majority of Republicans lined up against her, arguing she would bring personal bias and a liberal agenda to the bench. But Democrats praised Sotomayor as an extraordinarily qualified mainstream moderate and touted her elevation to the court as a milestone in the journey toward greater equality in the US and a reaffirmation of the American dream.

Obama, the first black US president, praised the Senate’s vote as “breaking another barrier and moving us yet another step closer to a more perfect union.”

Minutes before the vote, Senator Robert Menendez, the Senate’s lone Hispanic Democrat, said: “History awaits, and so does an anxious Hispanic community in this country.”

“When she places her hand on the Bible and takes the oath of office, the new portrait of the justices of the Supreme Court will clearly reflect who we are as a nation, what we stand for as a fair, just and hopeful people,” he said.

The Senate chamber was heavy with drama as senators took the rare step of assembling at their desks for the vote, rising from their seats to call out “aye” or “nay.” The longest-serving senator, 91-year-old Robert Byrd who has been in frail health following a long hospitalization, was brought in in a wheelchair to vote in Sotomayor’s favor. Edward Kennedy, a Democrat suffering from brain cancer, was the only senator absent.

Sotomayor replaces retiring ­Justice David Souter, a liberal named by a Republican president, and she is not expected to alter the court’s ideological split.

Still, Republicans and Democrats were deeply at odds over confirming Sotomayor, and the battle over her nomination highlighted profound philosophical disagreements that will shape future fights over the court’s makeup as Obama looks to another likely vacancy — perhaps more than one — while he’s in the White House.

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