While it has been a done deal ever since she survived her confirmation hearings last month without a meltdown, Sonia Sotomayor still made history this afternoon when the US Senate voted to put her on the nation's highest court.
The federal judge will become the first Hispanic justice and the third woman ever on the Supreme Court, breaking another diversity barrier.
Sotomayor is to be sworn in on Saturday at the Supreme Court building as the 111th justice, and one of the two oaths she will take will be in public.
President Obama, who made Sotomayor his first high court pick, said he was "pleased and deeply gratified" by the vote.
He told reporters at the White House that Sotomayor and her record have been scrutinized and she has the intellect and integrity to ably serve on the nation's highest court.
He said he is confident she will be an outstanding justice and said her breaking another barrier on the court is another step toward "a more perfect union." (His full remarks are below.)
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said her confirmation was "a remarkable thing in our history."
"This is the American Dream," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters that Sotomayor will bring "good judgment" to the high court.
The Senate vote, presided over by new Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, was 68-31.
She won the support of all 57 Democrats present (Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts was absent); plus independents Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who usually vote with Democrats; and nine Republicans, including three from New England: Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine.
That compares to a 78-22 vote for Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005 and 58-42 for Samuel Alito in 2006, the two most recent confirmations.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released this week found that 51 percent of Americans want the Senate to vote for Sotomayor, while 36 percent want the Senate to oppose her. That support is slightly higher than what she had before her confirmation hearings.
Sotomayor's supporters quickly hailed the vote.
“Today is a historic day for the American people. With the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States, the American people will gain a justice with broad legal and judicial experience. Having worked as a big-city prosecutor, corporate litigator, a federal trial judge, and an appellate judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Sotomayor brings a keen legal mind, a commitment to the Constitution, and more judicial experience to the high court than anyone confirmed in the last 70 years," Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine said in a statement.
“Today is also a day to recognize and be humbled by the American Dream. Judge Sotomayor’s story shows that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can achieve immense success in our country. And as the first Latina justice and the third female justice to serve, Judge Sotomayor will be an inspiration and a role model for millions of Latinos and women. This confirmation is further proof that change has come to Washington with the election of President Barack Obama. I congratulate him and Judge Sotomayor for this important victory on behalf of the American people.”
Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic advocacy group, said in a statement:
“August 6, 2009 marks a watershed moment for this great nation, and it is a date that will quickly take hold in the memories of millions of Hispanic Americans of all ages and backgrounds,” stated . “History was made today and our country will be the better for it. As was evident in her poised and thoughtful appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sotomayor will bring to the Supreme Court a compelling life story, 30 years of extensive experience in the law, 17 notable years on the federal bench, and a dedication to the Constitution and to the rule of law.”
“Finally, our community has representation on the highest court in the land. For that reason and many others, this vote matters to Latinos and it matters to our country. Latinos will always remember who recognized the significance of this nomination and did everything possible to make this long-deferred dream a reality for the Hispanic community,” Murguía concluded.
AFL-CIO president John Sweeney said in a statement:
"America’s workers congratulate Judge Sotomayor on her overwhelming confirmation to the United States Supreme Court. Throughout her nomination hearing Judge Sotomayor demonstrated that she is a stellar jurist with a strong intellect, a deep understanding of the law and the compassion to understand that her decisions will have a real
and long-lasting impact on working families. We congratulate the Senate for their leadership on her confirmation and for the overwhelming – and bipartisan – vote to confirm her."
“Sotomayor’s confirmation to the Supreme Court is an historic, groundbreaking event that marks the start of a new day for justice in America,” Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, said in a statement.
“As the Court’s first Hispanic and only its third woman, Sotomayor will have a powerful effect much like that of Justice Thurgood Marshall on the Court and the law. As a highly accomplished, qualified, smart jurist with a rich personal story and varied professional experience, she has proven herself to be fair, reasonable, and committed to upholding the rule of law and core constitutional values.”
“Her confirmation is just the beginning of the significant change that President Obama can bring to our judicial system. Hundreds of federal judges and several more Supreme Court justices will be appointed during his administration. America needs judges who will uphold the Constitution’s promise of equal justice for all. We look forward to the change that Justice Sotomayor will bring to America.”
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. Well, I am pleased and deeply gratified that the Senate has voted to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor as our nation’s 111th Supreme Court justice.
I want to thank the Senate Judiciary Committee, particularly its Chairman, Senator Leahy -- as well as its Ranking Member, Senator Sessions -- for giving Judge Sotomayor a thorough and civil hearing. And I thank them for doing so in a timely manner so that she can be fully prepared to take her seat when the Court’s work begins this September.
The members of our Supreme Court are granted life tenure and are charged with the vital and difficult task of applying principles set forth at our founding to the questions and controversies of our time. Over the past 10 weeks, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate have assessed Judge Sotomayor’s fitness for this work. They've scrutinized her record as a prosecutor, as a litigator, and as a judge. They've gauged her respect for the proper role of each branch of our government, her commitment to faithfully apply the law to the facts at hand, and her determination to protect our core constitutional rights and freedoms.
And 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 role 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. It's a promise that, whether you’re a mighty corporation or an ordinary American, you will receive a full and fair hearing. And in the end, the outcome of your case will be determined by nothing more or less than the strength of your argument and the dictates of the law.
These core American ideals -- justice, equality, and opportunity -- are the very ideals that have made Judge Sotomayor’s own uniquely American journey possible. They're ideals she's fought for throughout her career, and the ideals the Senate has upheld today in breaking yet another barrier and moving us yet another step closer to a more perfect union.
Like so many other aspects of this nation, I'm filled with pride in this achievement and great confidence that Judge Sotomayor will make an outstanding Supreme Court justice. This is a wonderful day for Judge Sotomayor and her family, but I also think it's a wonderful day for America.
Thank you very much, everybody.
Q Are you happy with the 68 votes, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm very happy.
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.