Sotomayor wins confirmation 68-31
By Manu Raju
The Senate confirmed Sonia Sotomayor Thursday as the 111th justice of the Supreme Court, making her the first Hispanic and third female justice, reshaping the highest court in the land.
With nine Republicans joining a united Democratic caucus, President Barack Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee was easily confirmed on a 68-31 vote, allowing her to replace David Souter’s by the time the court reconvenes in September. The full session will begin Oct. 5, when Sotomayor will likely preserve the ideological balance of power on the court, split between four conservatives and four liberals with Justice Anthony Kennedy the deciding vote in most narrowly divided cases.
The confirmation, as the Senate prepares for a month long August break, marks a victory for Obama after a rough month on his domestic agenda.
“I think it’s a great day for law, it’s a great day for justice, it’s a great day for every young woman who can now say, ‘Yes I can,’” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
“It is distinctively American to continually refine our Union, moving us closer to our ideals,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), moments before the confirmation vote. “Our Union is not yet perfected, but with this confirmation we will be making progress.
“Years from now, we will remember this time, when we crossed paths with the quintessentially American journey of Sonia Soto-mayor and when our nation took another step forward through this historic confirmation process.”
Sotomayor was in New York, watching the Senate vote from her federal court chambers.
The easy confirmation belied a fierce partisan debate since Obama nominated her to the court on May 26. The GOP questioned her past affiliation with a liberal advocacy group, a handful of controversial rulings and several previous comments about her gender and ethnicity to suggest that she could bring a personal bias to the court. She denied she would.
The National Rifle Association sought to portray Soto-mayor as anti-gun, further inflaming the partisan nature of this confirmation.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has voted to confirm every U.S. Supreme Court nominee since he was sworn into office in 1977. But in a sign of the changing nature of Supreme Court battles that perpetuated when Democrats battled George W. Bush’s judicial nominations, Hatch voted against Sotomayor. Hatch said he believed she was qualified, but warned that her past speeches raised questions about whether she would bring her personal views into her rulings.
“Judge Sotomayor’s speech and article presents something of a perfect judicial storm where her views of judging meet her views of the law,” Hatch said. “Combine partiality and subjectivity with uncertainty and instability in the law and the result is an activist judicial philosophy that I cannot support.”
Hatch added: “Remember that appeals court judges are bound by Supreme Court precedent. On the Supreme Court, Justice Sotomayor will help fashion the precedence that – that today bind Judge Sotomayor.”
The confirmation vote brought back the Senate’s oldest and longest-serving member, Robert Byrd, who has been recovering from an illness for the past several weeks. And the Senate’s newest member, Minnesota Sen. Al Frank-en, presided over the chamber, where senators voted from their wooden desks, rather than their usual procedure where they approach the well to cast their vote. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), the Senate’s liberal icon who is recovering from brain cancer, missed the vote.
Sotomayor’s confirmation caps a remarkable life journey for the 55-year-old New Yorker. A woman of Puerto Rican descent, Sotomayor grew up in the housing projects in the Bronx, where her father died when she was nine years old. She received scholarships to attend Princeton and graduated with highest distinction in 1976. Later attending Yale Law School, Sotomayor became editor of the Yale Law journal and became active in pushing the university’s administrators to hire more Latino faculty members.
Following her graduation from law school, Sotomayor worked as an assistant district attorney in New York and in private practice. At the same time, she remained active in the Latino community, serving as a board member for 12 years on the liberal Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, a position that became a source of controversy during her confirmation hearings. Sotomayor downplayed her association with the group, an affiliation that ended in 1992 when she was nominated by George H.W. Bush to be a federal judge in the southern district of New York.
There, she presided over a case in 1995 that led to the end the Major League Baseball strike when she ruled that the National Labor Relations fairly concluding that owners committed unfair labor committee over a salary arbitration dispute.
In 1998, Sotomayor was nominated by Bill Clinton to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where her nomination became a partisan-fight in the GOP-controlled Senate. She was eventually confirmed by a 67-29 vote with 24 Republicans voting for her nomination.
Since she’s served as a judge, both Democrats and most Republicans agree that her record has been within the mainstream of judicial thought – and she received the highest rating from the American Bar Association
But a handful of her rulings have prompted sharp concerns from the right, including a 2009 case where she said that the Second Amendment does not apply to states and a case that was reversed this June by the Supreme Court where she joined a ruling against white firefighters from New Haven alleging racial discrimination.
Those rulings, taken with a number of speeches she’s given over the years talking about her racial identity, including one where she said that a “wise Latina” woman could render a better judgment than a white judge prompted concerns that she would bring a bias to the bench. And her Second Amendment rulings prompted opposition from the National Rifle Association, but a number of senators who have been rated highly by the NRA voted to confirm her to the bench.
“Judge Sotomayor’s record on complex constitutional cases concerns me even more — because 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,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “And the consequences were real.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said Obama suggesting that judges should be empathetic is a “stunning ideology. It turns law into politics.”
But Sotomayor acknowledged to the Senate Judiciary Committee a poor choice of words in some of her speeches, and that her record shows abides by “fidelity to the law.”
And Democrats said that the GOP was ignoring her record where she consistently demonstrated her restraint as an arbiter of the law. And some Republicans saw it that way too, saying her record and qualifications should be the only factors in determining whether she should be confirmed.
“I believe the factors to be examined in determining whether a Supreme Court nominee is qualified include her education, prior legal and judicial experience, judicial temperament, and commitment to the rule of law,” said Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio). “Based on my review of her record, and using these factors, I have determined that Judge Sotomayor meets the criteria to become a Justice on the Supreme Court.”
The story was reprinted from “Politico” the orginal can be found at: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0809/25871.html