- The Washington Times - Friday, August 7, 2009

Making history by breaking another color barrier, the Senate on Thursday voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor as the nation’s first Hispanic, third woman and 111th justice in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court.

With the viewing galleries packed and senators voting from their seats - a rare event, in recognition of the gravity of the vote - the Senate confirmed Judge Sotomayor by a vote of 68-31. After the vote tally was announced, Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, gleefully grabbed the arm of fellow Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, while Sen. Charles E. Schumer clasped hands with Rep. Jose E. Serrano, a fellow New York Democrat who was in the chamber to watch the vote.

“With this historic vote, the Senate has affirmed that Judge Sotomayor has the intellect, the temperament, the history, the integrity and the independence of mind to ably serve on our nation’s highest court,” President Obama said at the White House after the vote.

Judge Sotomayor is Mr. Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee, and he said her confirmation moves the country “yet another step closer to a more perfect union.”

To see an AP interactive timeline of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s life, click here.

Once she is sworn in Saturday, Judge Sotomayor, who is of Puerto Rican descent, will replace retiring Justice David H. Souter. She is unlikely to alter radically the ideological makeup of the nine-member court, but she will make it the most diverse panel in its history.

Hispanic groups hailed the victory as a milestone. Conservative groups said they hope the judge keeps the promises she made during her confirmation hearings to apply the law evenhandedly.

The 55-year-old judge watched the vote on television from a conference room at the federal court building in New York.

Judge Sotomayor received more Senate votes in favor than the 58 garnered by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. in 2006, but fewer than the 78 votes Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. won in 2005. Both men were nominated by President George W. Bush.

Mr. Obama said he was happy with the total for Judge Sotomayor.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, were wheeled in on wheelchairs to vote. Only ailing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, was absent. Nine Republicans joined the Democrats and two independents in support. Thirty-one Republicans opposed her.

“This is a great day, a great American story, and I’m glad that she was approved by more than two to one,” Mr. Schumer said afterward. “That will say something about the best of America.”

Democrats had pushed to have Judge Sotomayor on the court before it hears oral arguments in a campaign finance case in September. The court’s regular session begins in October.

Judge Sotomayor brings nearly two decades of experience as a judge, first as a federal district judge and then more than a decade as an appeals court judge.

That long history was both her best asset and one of her biggest liabilities, along with her voluminous record of speeches.

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