Sotomayer gets the nod

2009-07-28 22:06

Washington - Judge Sonia Sotomayor took a big step on Tuesday toward becoming the first Hispanic justice on the US Supreme Court as a key Senate panel voted in favour of her historic nomination.

The US Senate Judiciary Committee's 13-6 vote referred the appeals court judge to the full Senate for confirmation, which was expected to occur before lawmakers leave on a month-long break in August.

The Princeton-educated jurist would be the second woman currently on the court, alongside Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the third to serve on the bench after retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Senator Lindsey Graham was the only Republican to join US President Barack Obama's Democratic allies in voting for Sotomayor, though a handful of others have said they will side with the White House in the final vote.

"We're 200-something years old as a nation. This is the first Latina woman in the history of the United States to be selected for the Supreme Court. Now that is a big deal," the South Carolina lawmaker said.

Even some of her most vocal critics have predicted that Sotomayor will be confirmed to the lifetime appointment, replacing retiring Justice David Souter on the nine-seat high court that is the final arbiter of the US Constitution.

The justices are called to decide some of the most contentious disputes in US politics and society, including abortion, gun rights, freedom of speech and controversial national security tactics.

"I would not have chosen her, but I understand why President Obama did. I gladly give her my vote," Graham said. "America has changed for the better with her selection."

Even before the committee's action, which was widely expected, Obama spokesperson Robert Gibbs said the judge, 55, could reach the High Court before lawmakers go on their break.

"This is moving on a schedule where we think it is very doable that, before the Senate leaves town, that Judge Sotomayor will be Justice Sotomayor and able to be seated in time to begin the important work at the court," he said.