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Sotomayor Confirmed as First Hispanic on Supreme Court

The U.S. Senate voted 68-31 Thursday to confirm Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, making her the first Hispanic and third woman to serve as a justice.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The U.S. Senate confirmed Sonia Sotomayor to the nation's highest court today. The federal appeals court judge will now become the first Hispanic justice and the third woman to sit on the United States Supreme Court.

    Jeffrey Brown has our lead story report.

  • SEN. AL FRANKEN, D-Minn.:

    On this vote, the yeas are 68 and the nays are 31.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The confirmation vote this afternoon made Judge Sotomayor the 111th justice in Supreme Court history. And the man who nominated her, President Obama, marked the occasion a short time later.

  • U.S. 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. This is a roll that the Senate has played for more than two centuries, helping to ensure that equal justice under the law is not merely a phrase inscribed above our courthouse door, but a description of what happens every single day inside the courtroom.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Fifty-seven of fifty-eight Senate Democrats approved the judge, as did two independents who generally vote with Democrats. Only Edward Kennedy missed the vote. He remained in Massachusetts suffering from brain cancer.

    Another ailing Democratic veteran, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, did appear today to vote in favor.

    Nine Republicans crossed party lines to vote yes, as well. Among them was George Voinovich of Ohio. He rejected criticism that Sotomayor's record shows an aggressive liberal agenda.

  • SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH, R-Ohio:

    Judge Sotomayor's opinions for the most part were lengthy, workmanlike, limited rulings, the sort of opinions that exhibit the judicial restraint one would hope for a Supreme Court justice.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    But the majority of Republicans voted no and saw in those same rulings and Sotomayor's speeches and writings reason to oppose her confirmation. Charles Grassley of Iowa.

  • SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY, R-Iowa:

    Unfortunately, Judge Sotomayor's speeches and writings over the years reveal a judicial philosophy that highlights the importance of personal preferences and beliefs in her judicial method.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Democrat Tom Carper of Delaware said that kind of scrutiny presents a standard no nominee or senator could meet.

  • SEN. TOM CARPER, D-Del.:

    As many of us know from personal experience, it's easy to take one vote, one decision, or one line from one of our speeches to completely take it out of context and make us appear to be someone we are not.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The broader politics of the vote were on display afterward. Democrat Robert Menendez was asked whether Republicans would suffer because so many opposed the first Hispanic justice.

  • SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, D-N.J.:

    For the Hispanic community, which is not monolithic, it was monolithic about Judge Sonia Sotomayor. If you meet all of the challenges that you are told you need to meet and still you can be told no, despite fidelity to the Constitution, the law, and precedent, then it sends a tough message to us as a community. And I think that message is one that will be seriously viewed in the days ahead.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    For their part, Republicans held no post-vote briefings on the confirmation.

    Judge Sotomayor will take the place of retiring Justice David Souter, who, though nominated by President George H.W. Bush, became a reliable liberal vote. Her seating is not expected to change the court's ideological divide. She'll be sworn in Saturday, allowing her to take part in a special re-argument of a campaign finance case the court will hear next month.

    And now for some perspective on what today's confirmation means to the Hispanic community and beyond, we turn to Ramona Romero, president of the Hispanic National Bar Association; Danny Vargas, chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly; and Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

    Ramona Romero, what does the confirmation mean to you?

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