NPR logo Senate Panel Backs Sotomayor Nomination


Senate Panel Backs Sotomayor Nomination

The 13-6 Senate Judiciary Committee vote split almost entirely along party lines. Every panel Democrat backed Sotomayor's nomination, but Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was the only Republican to vote in favor of Sotomayor (above). Charles Dharapak/AP hide caption

toggle caption Charles Dharapak/AP

The 13-6 Senate Judiciary Committee vote split almost entirely along party lines. Every panel Democrat backed Sotomayor's nomination, but Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was the only Republican to vote in favor of Sotomayor (above).

Charles Dharapak/AP

The Lone Republican

Sen. Lindsey Graham's remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee vote

Senate Panel Backs Sotomayor Nomination

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The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to send Judge Sonya Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination to the full Senate, moving her one step closer to becoming the first Hispanic on the highest court in the land.

The 13-6 vote was mostly along party lines. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was the lone Republican to support Sotomayor, voting with all 12 Democrats to push President Obama's first Supreme Court nominee forward.

The full Senate is expected to vote on Sotomayor's nomination next week, and confirmation is virtually certain.

In comments before the vote, Graham said, "I'm deciding to vote for a woman I would not have chosen." He added that Obama's choice to nominate the first-ever Latina to the highest court is "a big deal," declaring that "America has changed for the better with her selection."

Graham noted that Sotomayor would not change the court's ideological balance. If confirmed, she will replace retiring Justice David Souter, a liberal.

Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said Sotomayor's 17 years as a federal district and appellate judge make her well qualified to serve on the court.

"The president nominated a person with more federal judicial experience than anyone nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court in nearly a hundred years," Leahy said, adding that Sotomayor would be the only justice with experience as a prosecutor. "It's with enthusiasm and hope that I'm going to vote in favor of this historic nomination."

But most committee Republicans questioned Sotomayor's ability to be unbiased, repeatedly criticizing her "wise Latina" comment during a 2001 speech before a law school audience at the University of California, Berkeley.

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life," she said in the speech.

The statement became a major issue in confirmation hearings. Sotomayor testified that it was merely rhetoric that fell flat, but Republicans say her words showed racial and gender bias.

Referring to the oft-quoted comment, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the committee's second-ranking Republican, said he is not convinced that Sotomayor would be able to decide cases impartially.

Grassley said she has repeatedly made such statements. "I had problems harmonizing her answers with the statements that she repeated over and over again throughout the years," he said.

The committee's top Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, said the "wise Latina" comment leads him to believe she will be a judicial activist. He also raised concerns about her stance on gun rights.

As part of an appellate panel, Sotomayor ruled earlier this year that the Second Amendment could not be used to limit state laws restricting weapons possession. The case involved a man named James Maloney of Port Washington, N.Y., who was arrested for possessing a nunchaku martial arts weapon in his home. He contended that the Second Amendment rendered the state law banning nunchakus unconstitutional.

The case, Maloney v. Rice, could come before the Supreme Court.

The National Rifle Association announced last week that it would categorize Sotomayor as "hostile" to the Second Amendment and include lawmakers' votes on her confirmation in its rating of political candidates, which could influence voters in key battleground states.

Throughout the proceedings, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle commended Sotomayor for her accomplishments.

The 55-year-old jurist is the daughter of working-class, Puerto Rican immigrants. She graduated from Yale Law School and went on to have a broad-ranging legal career that included working as an assistant district attorney and in private practice.

Sotomayor is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate next week. Democrats, who hold 60 of the Senate's 100 seats, are solidly behind the president's nominee, and five Republicans — including two of the party's four female senators and Cuban-born Florida Sen. Mel Martinez — have said they'll vote for Sotomayor.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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