The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court on a near party-line vote of 13-6, with only Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, breaking ranks to join committee Democrats in support of the nominee.
Judge Sotomayor is expected to become the first Hispanic to join the nation’s high court following a full vote of the Senate before Congress recesses Aug. 7.
Democrats argued that Judge Sotomayor’s 17 years on the federal bench more than qualified her for the high court.
“It is troubling that colleagues seem to be looking for reasons outside of her record and posit that she is outside the mainstream,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said in his opening statement.
Republican members focused largely on Judge Sotomayor’s speeches, repeating concerns about her comment that a “wise Latina woman” would make better judgments than a “white male” revealed her true judicial philosophy.
Sen. Herb Kohl, Wisconsin Democrat, lamented that the modern confirmation process — with excessive media coverage and millions of dollars spent by outside interest groups — makes it hard for nominees to stray from their careful scripts when going through the confirmation process.
Supreme Court nominees “have learned the path of least resistance is to limit their responses and quote in generalities,” Mr. Kohl said.
The panel’s Republican members said Judge Sotomayor’s interpretation of the Second Amendment right to gun ownership troubled them.
“In some of her most important cases, she gave short shrift to fundamental constitutional rights and, in my judgment, used inappropriate legal standards and did not properly apply precedent,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, said.
Tensions between the senators occasionally rose Tuesday morning as they recounted the confirmation debate.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said Judge Sotomayor was targeted unfairly for one comment she made, which was repeated more during her confirmation hearings than when she was giving speeches.
“I hope someone was keeping track of how many times that was quoted during these hearings,” Mr. Durbin said.
Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, rejected Mr. Durbin’s characterization of the debate.
“I think it somewhat unfair to characterize us with a broad brush,” Mr. Coburn said.
Mr. Graham, the sole committee Republican to vote for Judge Sotomayor, said he empathized with the handful of committee Democrats who crossed the aisle to vote for nominees of past Republican administrations.
Mr. Graham said that, although he was voting for a “woman he would not have chosen,” her speeches still “bug the hell out of me.”