Sonia Sotomayor took a big step this morning toward becoming the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court, winning the endorsement of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The panel's 13-6 vote was almost entirely along party lines. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said during her confirmation hearings that she would join the court barring a meltdown, was the lone Republican to break ranks and vote for Sotomayor.
Sotomayor is expected to easily win confirmation next week from the full Senate, where Democrats and two allied independents control 60 votes, and replace retiring Justice David Souter, who is returning to his New Hampshire farm.
While senators of both parties praised her up-from-the-Bronx life story, Republicans said they were concerned about some past statements and rulings and feared she would bring personal biases to the high court and emerge as an liberal activist judge.
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the senior Republican on the committee, said he believes that Sotomayor's approach to jurisprudence conflicts with the time-honored tradition for "blind justice and fidelity to the law."
Anti-abortion and gun rights groups also opposed Sotomayor and pushed senators to vote against her.
Democrats and her supporters, however, said she was squarely in the judicial mainstream and pointed out that her 17 years as a federal judge surpassed other recent nominees.
Liberal groups applauded the committee vote.
“Today’s vote moves this historic nominee one step closer to the Supreme Court. During her hearing, Judge Sotomayor demonstrated over and over again her intelligence, her open-mindedness, and her deep respect for the Constitution and the rule of law," People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker said in a statement. "I’m glad that already a significant number of Republicans have spoken out in favor of Judge Sotomayor and that she received bipartisan support today. It’s unfortunate that not everyone has been able to put aside political concerns, but that does nothing to undermine the importance of confirming the first Hispanic and third woman to our nation’s highest Court."
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence cast the vote as a "clear loss" for the National Rifle Association.
The "NRA obviously failed to intimidate the Senate Judiciary Committee today," spokesman Doug Pennington said in a statement. "The full Senate is likely to brush aside NRA opposition once again when Judge Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court is finally decided."
Alliance for Justice president Nan Aron added in a statement: “Judge Sotomayor, through her record and throughout the confirmation hearings, has proven herself to be an outstanding and fair-minded jurist who understands the role courts play in American society. She will ably serve the nation as a justice on the Supreme Court.
“Since her nomination was announced, Judge Sotomayor has earned support and respect from across the political spectrum. Alliance for Justice urges the Senate to set aside partisan posturing and recognize that Judge Sotomayor possesses the qualifications, the experience and the intellect required for a seat on the Supreme Court. The full Senate should follow the example of their colleagues on the Judiciary Committee who supported this historic nomination and swiftly vote to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the next Supreme Court justice.”
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.