Sotomayor Confirmed With Few GOP Votes
WASHINGTON - Sonia Sotomayor's improbable journey from a Bronx public housing project to the Supreme Court culminates this weekend when she takes her judicial oath, following an emotional Senate vote that made history and could foreshadow political battles to come.
President Barack Obama hailed the 68-31 vote to confirm his first Supreme Court choice as "breaking yet another barrier and moving us yet another step closer to a more perfect union."
Sotomayor, 55, will be the third woman and first Hispanic on the high court. Chief Justice John Roberts on Saturday will swear in his new colleague to succeed retired Justice David Souter.
For the nation's 47 million Hispanics, Sotomayor's elevation from a federal appeals court is a potent symbol of achievement.
"We have finally arrived," said Carlos Ortiz, a past president of the Hispanic Bar Association.
For Obama, however, the exhilaration was tempered by a dose of political reality. Though Sotomayor was confirmed by a decisive majority, the vote was not nearly as bipartisan as Obama had sought.
For the Republican Party, the vote complicates prospects for wooing Hispanics. Nine of the Senate's 40 Republicans backed Sotomayor. The rest, while hailing her as a trailblazer and role model, portrayed her as a liberal who favors affirmative action, gun control and limits on property rights.
"Politically, it's not a helpful moment for Republicans with Hispanics," said Florida's Mel Martinez, the lone GOP Hispanic senator.
New Jersey's Robert Menendez, the Democrats' only Hispanic senator, said he is "immensely disappointed" by the lack of GOP support.
Democrats such as former Housing and Urban Development secretary Henry Cisneros see an opportunity to cement the loyalties of an ethnic group that now makes up 15 percent of the nation's population.
GOP strategist Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition argued that GOP senators were right to oppose a nominee whose "extreme judicial views" are bound to alienate the party's core conservative voters. In next year's congressional elections, Reed said, "intensity and enthusiasm matter."
Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., mocked Sotomayor's opponents for making an issue of her remark that she hoped "a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male." Sotomayor apologized for the comment, but Specter defended it.
"To talk about being a Latino, well, what is wrong with a little ethnic pride?" he said. "And isn't it about time that we had some greater diversity on the Supreme Court?"