Saturday, August 8, 2009

When Sonia Sotomayor is sworn in Saturday to the Supreme Court, she’ll be able to claim two firsts: the nation’s first Hispanic justice and the first high court member to have her oath-taking captured by TV cameras.

Judge Sotomayor, who won a groundbreaking Senate confirmation vote Thursday despite conservative opposition, will be sworn in twice by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

She will repeat one oath as prescribed by the Constitution in a private ceremony at the high court that will be open only to members of the judge’s family. Then, Chief Justice Roberts will administer a second oath with the new justice’s family and friends, and with reporters present.

Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said the ceremony apparently will be the first one open to television cameras in the court’s history.

Judge Sotomayor is the first Democratic nominee to the court in 15 years. She becomes the nation’s 111th justice - and just the third woman in the court’s history. She’ll appear next week at the White House with President Obama, who chose her in May to replace retiring Justice David H. Souter.

“With this historic vote, the Senate has affirmed that Justice Sotomayor has the intellect, the temperament, the history, the integrity and the independence of mind to ably serve on our nation’s highest court,” Mr. Obama said following Thursday’s 68-31 confirmation vote.

The 55-year-old daughter of Puerto Rican parents was raised in a South Bronx housing project and educated in the Ivy League before rising to the highest legal echelons, spending the past 17 years as a federal judge.

Senate Democrats backed her unanimously, but a majority of Senate Republicans lined up in a show of opposition both for her and for the president’s standards for a justice.

Republicans argued that she would bring personal biases and a liberal agenda to the bench. But Democrats praised her as an extraordinarily qualified mainstream moderate and touted her elevation to the court as a milestone in the nation’s history.

Justice Souter, named by Republican President George H.W. Bush, has sided with the court’s liberal wing, so Judge Sotomayor is not expected to alter the ideological balance of power when she joins the court.

Still, her nomination sparked an intense fight between Republicans and Democrats, highlighting profound philosophical disagreements that will shape future fights over the court’s makeup as Mr. Obama looks to fill another likely vacancy - perhaps more than one - while he is in the White House.

In the final Senate tally, nine Republicans joined majority Democrats and the Senate’s two independents to support Judge Sotomayor. They included the Senate’s few GOP moderates and its lone Hispanic Republican, retiring Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, as well as conservative Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the party’s third-ranking leader.

Thirty-one Republicans voted against the nomination.

The National Rifle Association, which had not weighed in on Supreme Court nominations in the past, strongly opposed her and threatened to downgrade its ratings of any senator who voted to confirm her. The warning may have influenced some Republicans who were initially considered possible supporters but later announced their opposition, citing her rulings on gun rights as a key reason.

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