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Senate Approves Sotomayor Confirmation

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block in Washington.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand in California.

It is official. Sonia Sotomayor will join the Supreme Court as its first Hispanic and third woman. Sotomayor was confirmed today by the Senate by a vote of 68 to 31. All Democrats and 9 Republicans supported her.

NPR's Audie Cornish reports from the Capitol.

AUDIE CORNISH: Minutes after the vote was tallied, President Obama went to the microphone with high praise all around.

President BARACK OBAMA: With this historic vote, the Senate has affirmed that Judge Sotomayor has the intellect, the temperament, the history, the integrity and the independence of mind to ably serve on our nation's highest court.

CORNISH: During three days of debate, Democrats portrayed Sonia Sotomayor as a scrappy intellectual from the Bronx with an unbeatable resume highlighted by a 17 year stretch of judicial restraint on the federal bench. Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin said senators shouldn't hold Sotomayor's personal history against her.

Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): Judge Sotomayor should not be chosen to serve on the court because of her Hispanic heritage, but those who oppose her for fear of her unique life experience do no justice to her or our nation. Their names will be listed in our nation's annals of elected officials one step behind America's historic march forward.

CORNISH: GOP opponents said it wasn't Sotomayor's heritage that concerned them, but the role that heritage might play in her approach to cases. Republicans highlighted rulings she's issued involving Second Amendment gun rights, property rights and job discrimination against whites. Ranking Judiciary Committee member Jeff Sessions of Alabama argued that the moderate who testified before the committee would become a freewheeling liberal activist on the high court.

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): We need judges who uphold the rights of all, not just some, whether they are New Haven firefighters, law abiding gun owners or Americans looking for their fair day in court. We need judges who put the Constitution before politics and the right legal outcome before their desired personal, political, social outcome.

CORNISH: And as evidence of bias, Republicans returned again and again to Sotomayor's speeches and writings outside of court. Especially the now notorious comment Sotomayor made in a 2001 speech about how a wise Latina judge might reach a better conclusion in a case than a white male. Iowa Republican Charles Grassley said this version of the judge could not be reconciled with the one Democrats presented.

Senator CHARLES GRASSLEY (Democrat, Iowa): The statements made at the hearing and those made in speeches and law review articles outside of the hearing are polar opposites of each other. Some of her explanations were contrived or farfetched. I'm not sure that the judge - which judge I am to believe.

CORNISH: Democrats said the GOP was distorting Sotomayor's record by highlighting three cases out of more than 3,000. Nine Republicans broke ranks to vote for Sotomayor's confirmation, but many said the process has become too personal and too politicized. Ohio Republican George Voinovich, who supported Sotomayor, criticized President Obama for bringing ideas like empathy and heart into the nomination process.

Senator GEORGE VOINOVICH (Republican, Ohio): Let me be clear. If I applied President Obama's standard, I would not be voting for Judge Sotomayor, his nominee. All of us in this chamber can examine the academic credentials of and prior judicial decisions authored by a nominee and determine whether he or she is qualified. We cannot examine and judge what is in the heart.

CORNISH: Jubilant Democrats gathered after the debate to tout the historic nature of the vote, which makes Sonia Sotomayor the first ever Hispanic elevated to the high court. And it falls on the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.