WASHINGTON — Pushing toward a historic Supreme Court confirmation vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be the first Hispanic justice, over nearly solid Republican opposition.
The panel's 13-6 vote for Sotomayor masked deep political divisions within GOP ranks about confirming President Barack Obama's first high court nominee. Just one Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, joined Democrats to support her, although four others have said they will vote for Sotomayor when her nomination comes before the full Senate next week — and that number is expected to grow.
"I would not have chosen her, but I understand why President Obama did. I gladly give her my vote, because I think she meets the qualifications test," Graham said. Obama's choice to nominate the first-ever Hispanic woman to the highest court is "a big deal," he added, declaring, "America has changed for the better with her selection."
Half of the senators voting no didn't stick around to cast their votes in person. "No by proxy," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., responded three times when the clerk called the names of Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.; John Cornyn, R-Texas; and Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
Strategists on both sides who have been closely tracking the nomination said as many as five more Republicans could join the five who have already announced their intention to vote for Sotomayor. Florida Sen. Mel Martinez is among the Republicans who have said they will vote in favor of her confirmation.
Democrats, for their part, are lining up solidly in favor of the 55-year-old federal appeals court judge, the daughter of Puerto Rican parents who was raised in a South Bronx housing project and educated in the Ivy League.