Senate Votes Sonia Sotomayor As First Hispanic Supreme Court Justice

Obama's pick confirmed by Senate, becomes first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.

August 5, 2009, 2:56 PM

Aug. 6, 2009— -- The Senate voted to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court today, making her the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and just the third woman to sit on the court.

The 55-year-old Sotomayor, who was confirmed by a vote of 68-31, will be sworn in on Saturday at the Court.

Despite strong and vocal opposition from some Senate Republicans, nine GOP senators voted for her confirmation, more than the number of Democrats who supported Justice Samuel Alito, but fewer than the number who crossed party lines to support Chief Justice John Roberts.

Among them were four Republican senators who will be retiring at the end of 2010, including Sens. Kit Bond of Missouri, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Mel Martinez of Florida and George Voinovich of Ohio. Other GOP senators who cast an "aye" vote were Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Richard Lugar of Indiana, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

All 59 Democrats who were present voted for Sotomayor.

"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," President Obama said after the vote.

Rookie Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., presided over the Senate chamber this afternoon when the Senate voted to confirm Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

Watch video highlights from Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings.

Visit ABC News' special section featuring gavel-to-gavel coverage of Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation process.

At viewing parties on both coasts, Hispanic reaction to Sotomayor's confirmation by the Senate was brimmng with emotion and joy.

In New York, Carmen Garcia, a single mother from Spanish Harlem, watched the vote at La Fonda Boricua restaurant.

"This brings a new outlook for all these children in Harlem, in Spanish Harlem, in South Bronx, all over the streets that they go everyday, walking down the street to school and they only see violence, and they see gangs, and they see drugs... If she could do it, they could do it also," Garcia said.

In Los Angeles, Azucena Maldonado and Nancy De Los Santos sported T-shirts with the lettering "Wise Latinas Rule," a reference to a controversial remark Sotomayor made during a speech -- that a "wise Latina" judge might reach a better decision than a white man -- that earned Republican ire early in the confirmation process.

Said Maldonado, "She's a wise Latina. We're wise Latinas and so we made our T-shirts to show everybody that we're wise Latinas and we support her. And we're so happy that she's confirmed today."

What remains to be seen is whether or not Republicans who didn't back the president's Supreme Court nominee will pay a political price at the ballot box with Hispanic voters for voting against the first Hispanic justice on the high court.

Following the vote, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said dissenting Republicans sent "a tough message to us as a community."

Of the opposition, Sen. Patrcik Leahy added, "If President Obama had nominated Moses the law giver they would have voted no."

In an interview with ABC News, League of United Latin American Citizens President Rosa Rosales said she was "very disappointed" with the Republicans who voted against Sotomayor.

"When the time comes, we may not just be for you because you did not support someone that is well qualified," Rosales said.

Julian Zelizer, history professor at Princeton University, says it's "too early to tell" what backlash Republicans will feel, suggesting that Sotomayor's confirmation "might actually diminish some of the backlash that would have developed if Senate Republicans had been able to stifle this nomination."

Zelizer sees more disturbing implications where the nomination process is concerned.

"The question is: does this harm the kind of nominees we get. Does it scare certain people out of the mix or does it cause presidents to not nominate someone who might be very good simply because they are nervous about whether they can survive the politics of this," the professor said.

Dissenting Republicans Make Opinions Heard on Sotomayor

On the Senate floor today some of the GOP senators opposing Sotomayor made their voices heard.

Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, cited then-Sen. Obama's opposition to both of President Bush's Supreme Court nominees: Justices Roberts and Alito.

"[Obama] concluded that when he withheld his consent on those two, that the person did not meet his view of what the vision for America was. I've reached the same conclusion on this nominee. In all good conscience, I must withhold the consent," Risch said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, commended Sotomayor's "inspiring life story and a great ethnic heritage," but said he wished "President Obama had chosen a Hispanic nominee whom all senators could support."

Illinois Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin defended Obama's nominee and suggested that "those who oppose her because of fear of her life experience" are doing a disservice to the nation.

Durbin said those voting in opposition "will be listed in our nation's history of elected officials, one step behind America's historic march forward."

Earlier this week, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., announced on the Senate floor he would vote against her nomination, deriding Sotomayor as an "activist judge" who would seek to substitute her own opinion for the role of legislators.

The National Rife Association opposed Sotomayor's confirmation in a letter to Senate leaders last month. The powerful gun lobby said it will count support for her as opposition to gun rights and threatened to evaluate candidates through the prism of this vote.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Sotomayor's nomination on July 28, sending the matter to the Senate floor after a vote that fell largely along party lines. Of the 19-member panel, 12 Democrats voted for Sotomayor and six Republicans voted against. One Republican, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, joined the Democrats and stated that Sotomayor "meets the qualifications test that was used in [Justices] Scalia and Ginsburg."

Graham continued, "If she, by being a woman on the court, will inspire young women, particularly Latino women, to seek a career in the law, that would be a good thing."

This story compiles reporting from ABC News' Jan Crawford Greenburg, Dennis Powell, Ann Compton, Rick Klein, David Chalian, Jonathan Karl, Theresa Cook, Tilesha Brown, Edward Sunol and Z. Byron Wolf.

Read more about Sotomayor's confirmation hearings.

Day Four: Sotomayor Faces Tough Questions About New Haven Firefighter Discrimination Case (July 16, 2009)

Day Three: Sotomayor Sidesteps Questions About Abortion, Gun Rights (July 15, 2009)

Day Two: GOP Senator Questions Sotomayor's Temperament On The Bench (July 14, 2009)

Day One: Sotomayor Pledges Fidelity To The Law (July 13, 2009)

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