The 55-year-old appeals court judge becomes the 111th justice and just the third woman to serve as justice.
Democrats praised Sotomayor as a mainstream moderate, but most Republican senators voted against her, saying she would bring personal bias and a liberal agenda to the nation’s highest court.
Senators took the rare step of assembling at their desks on the Senate floor for the historic occasion, rising from their seats to cast their votes.
President Obama said after the confirmation vote that he was “pleased and deeply gratified.”
Listen to his full remarks:
Still, Republicans and Democrats were deeply at odds over confirming Sotomayor, and the battle over her nomination highlighted profound philosophical disagreements that will shape future battles over the court’s makeup as Mr. Obama looks to another likely vacancy — perhaps more than one– while he’s in the White House.
The GOP decried the president’s call for “empathy” in a justice, painting Sotomayor as the embodiment of an inappropriate standard that would let a judge bring her personal whims and prejudices to the bench.
Her writings and speeches “reflect a belief not just that impartiality is not possible, but that it’s not even worth the effort,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader. “In Judge Sotomayor’s court, groups that didn’t make the cut of preferred groups often found that they ended up on the short end of the empathy standard.”
Thirty-one of the Senate’s 40 Republicans voted against to her confirmation, though all Democratic senators backed her.
The Republican senators who broke ranks with their party include: Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Christopher Bond of Missouri, Richard Lugar of Indiana, Mel Martinez of Florida, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, George Voinovich of Ohio, and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine.
Republican opposition to the nominee has centered on her judicial record and speeches, especially a 2001 speech in which she said she hoped a “wise Latina” would usually make better decisions than a white man.
Sotomayor’s position on the Second Amendment also won her few Republican fans. She was part of a panel that ruled this year that the amendment doesn’t limit state actions — only federal ones — in keeping with previous Supreme Court precedent. Gun rights activists also took issue with statements she made during her confirmation hearings, where she would not declare that the Second Amendment applies to the states.
The National Rifle Associated has threatened to downgrade its candidate rating of any senator who voted to confirm her, the Associated Press reported.
But even Republicans who opposed the confirmation have said Sotomayor has the experience to serve on the Supreme Court. She has been a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit for the past 11 years and previously was a federal trial judge for six year. six years as a federal trial judge. She attended two Ivy League universities and was a Manhattan prosecutor before becoming a judge.
“There is no doubt that Judge Sotomayor has the professional background and qualifications that one hopes for in a Supreme Court nominee,” Republican John McCain of Arizona said on the Senate floor this week, reported Bloomberg News.
Democrats rallied behind Sotomayor this week and continued to dismiss the criticism leveled by her opponents.
“To say you cannot vote for this qualified Latina sends a message to us, as a community, that we will not forget,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, reported the Washington Post.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-6 last week, largely along party lines, to send Sotomayor’s nomination to the full Senate.
Her confirmation is the Democrats’ first Supreme Court victory in 15 years.
Sotomayor succeeds David Souter, who retired from the high court this year, but is not expected to change the balance in the court as Souter usually ruled on the liberal side.