- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2009

Breaking another color barrier, Sonia Sotomayor won overwhelming Senate approval Thursday to become the first Hispanic and third woman justice on the Supreme Court.

“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,” said President Obama, who said the vote moves the country close to “a perfect union.”

Once she is officially sworn in Judge Sotomayor, who is of Puerto Rican descent, will replace retiring Justice David Souter, though she is unlikely to alter radically the ideological makeup of the 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 her 68-31, with nine Republicans joining the Democrats and two independents in support and 31 Republicans opposed.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, were both wheeled in on wheelchairs to vote. After the tally was announced, Sen. Barbara Boxer gleefully grabbed the arm of fellow Sen. Patty Murray while Sen. Charles S. Schumer clasped hands with Rep. Jose Serrano, a fellow New York Democrat who was in the chamber to watch the vote.

Judge Sotomayor received more votes of support than did the previous justice, Samuel A. Alito Jr., but fewer votes than Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., both of whom were nominated by President George W. Bush.

Democrats had pushed to have her confirmed before a campaign finance case comes to the Supreme Court in September, earlier than their usual October start date for their annual session.

Republicans who voted against her said her rulings on gun and property rights and discrimination worried them, as did her writings on abortion, the death penalty and the role of a judge.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell painted a picture of what he called “Judge Sotomayor’s Court” where, he said, only certain groups got justice. He said others, such as the white firefighters she ruled against in a discrimination case the Supreme Court reversed “didn’t make the cut” for her list of favored groups.

During her hearing Judge Sotomayor distanced herself from some of her writings, saying her record on the federal bench showed she was an impartial judge. And Democratic senators said she struck the right balance.

“We don’t have to guess what kind of judge she’ll be, she’s had more experience on the federal courts … than any nominee in decades,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat. “This is an extraordinary nominee.”

Her confirmation was the latest installment of what has become among the most rancorous battles —yet for nearly two decades, or since Justice Clarence Thomas’s nomination, the presidents’ choices have been fairly easily approved.