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Senate Judiciary Committee votes to confirm Sotomayor

  • Story Highlights
  • 13-6 vote sets up final confirmation vote by full Senate
  • Panel voted mostly on partisan lines; 1 Republican joined Democrats
  • At least 5 GOP senators back Sotomayor, making Senate confirmation almost sure
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved the nomination of federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor to become the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, setting up a final confirmation vote by the Senate.

With Republican senators' support, Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation by the full Senate is a virtual certainty.

With Republican senators' support, Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation by the full Senate is a virtual certainty.

The 13-6 committee vote was mostly on partisan lines, with one Republican joining the panel's Democrats in sending the nomination to the full Senate.

At least five Republican senators have announced their intention to support Sotomayor, making confirmation by the Democratic-controlled Senate a virtual certainty.

Sotomayor, 55, is President Obama's first nominee to the nation's highest court. She would be 111th person to sit on the Supreme Court, and the third female justice.

The Judiciary Committee held a four-day confirmation hearing earlier this month that foreshadowed Tuesday's vote, with Democrats praising Sotomayor's 17-year record as a federal judge and her made-in-America story as a minority woman who rose to success through hard work and opportunity.

Republicans questioned her judicial neutrality, complaining about speeches in which she made controversial statements, including her hope that a "wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences" would reach a better conclusion than a white man "who hasn't lived that life."

Conservative Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the lone Republican to back Sotomayor, said Tuesday that he still has concerns about her impartiality.

Some of her speeches "bugged the hell out of me," Graham said, but he added that some of his own speeches probably "bugged the hell out of people on the other side" of the political divide.

Graham praised Sotomayor's competence and qualifications, and he joked that she was unlikely to be worse than the justice she was chosen to replace, David Souter, a liberal.

"She can be no worse than Souter from our point of view," he said to fellow Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, who opposed Sotomayor. See how Sotomayor compares with Supreme Court justices »

Graham also noted that Sotomayor is a unique historical figure.

"This is the first Latina woman in the history of the U.S. to be nominated to the Supreme Court. That is a big deal," he said, although he said it was neither a reason to vote for or against her.

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It was the first time that any of the Republican opponents had voted against a Supreme Court nominee put forward by either a Democratic or Republican president.

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said Tuesday that he "genuinely wrestled with this decision," but that in studying Sotomayor's speeches, articles and cases, he found a "troubling approach to judging" that the judge's testimony before the committee did not resolve.

He said he believes she gave short shrift to constitutional rights and used inappropriate legal standards in deciding cases.

Democrats on the panel praised the judge, with Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California saying: "I see her as a most impressive person on a number of different levels."

Referring to Sotomayor's judicial record, Feinstein said she found "no example of infidelity to the law."

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a former Republican and the longest-serving member of the panel, said Sotomayor was the best nominee of the 11 he has reviewed over the years.

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Specter also praised the "wise Latina" comment, saying: "If a woman didn't stand up for women, I wouldn't think much of her."

Obama's Democratic Party holds a 58-40 edge in the full Senate, with two independents considered part of the Democratic caucus.

CNN's Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

All About U.S. Senate Committee on the JudiciaryU.S. Supreme CourtSonia Sotomayor

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