WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee has voted to approve Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor to be the first Hispanic justice.
The committee voted 13-6 Tuesday morning to send Sotomayor's nomination to the full Senate, where she's expected to be confirmed easily next week.
Just one Republican, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, joined Democrats in voting for President Barack Obama's first high court nominee. The panel's chairman, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, called Sotomayor a restrained, fair and impartial judge who has not favored any one group of people over another. But the top Republican, Alabama's Jeff Sessions, said her speeches and some rulings revealed beliefs that conflict with the idea of blind justice and fidelity to the law.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor appears headed to quick confirmation as the first Hispanic justice in spite of opposition from a growing chorus of conservative Republican senators who say she would bring liberal bias to the high court.
A Senate Judiciary Committee vote Tuesday was expected to advance Sotomayor, President Barack Obama's first Supreme Court nominee, to the full Senate, where she's all but guaranteed to be confirmed in a bipartisan vote next week.
Most Republicans on the panel, including senior GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and second-ranking Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, say they'll vote no. At least one — South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham — is siding with party moderates who plan to join Democrats in backing Sotomayor.
Republicans are divided on the politically perplexing question of how to vote on Sotomayor. Many are eager to please their core supporters by opposing her but fear a backlash by Hispanic voters, a fast-growing part of the electorate, if they do so.
Obama chose Sotomayor to replace retiring Justice David Souter, a liberal named by a Republican president, and she's considered unlikely to alter the high court's ideological split. Sotomayor is the daughter of Puerto Rican parents who was raised in a New York City housing project and educated in the Ivy League. She has served on the federal bench for 17 years.
Sessions said Sotomayor's writings and speeches amount to "dramatic expressions of an activist view of judging," and added that a few of her rulings sidestepped key constitutional issues and ignored bedrock principles. He said he believed Sotomayor would be a vote for a "new kind of ideological judging."
Grassley said he's not sure Sotomayor understands the rights Americans have under the Constitution, or that she will refrain from expanding or restricting those rights based on her personal preferences. He said he was still haunted by his 1990 vote to confirm Souter, and harbored the same doubts about Sotomayor.
Many Republicans point to Sotomayor's stance on gun rights as a key reason they're voting against her. They complain that she refused to weigh in during her confirmation hearings on whether the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms applies to states as well as the federal government, a question on which the high court has yet to rule. Sotomayor was part of an appeals court panel that said this year that the amendment doesn't restrict state laws, citing previous Supreme Court precedent.
The National Rifle Association, which was slow to announce its opposition to Sotomayor and initially hung back from threatening senators against voting for her, announced last week that it would "score" her confirmation vote, calling her "hostile" to the Second Amendment. That means the NRA will include the vote on Sotomayor in its annual candidate ratings, which heavily influence voters in key battleground states.
Republicans and Democrats from conservative-leaning states generally fear bucking the NRA, and strategists speculate that the group's opposition has tipped the balance for some GOP senators who might otherwise have considered supporting Sotomayor. No Democrat has announced plans to vote no.
A group of Hispanic House Democrats wrote to NRA leaders Monday urging the group to reconsider its stance, saying it was putting some senators in an untenable position by forcing them to choose between defying the gun lobby and infuriating Hispanic constituents.
The anti-abortion rights group Americans United for Life has also weighed in against Sotomayor, writing to senators urging a "no" vote and announcing that it, too, would include her confirmation vote in its annual scorecard.
The group said it was concerned Sotomayor would "undermine any efforts by our elected representatives to pass even the most widely accepted regulations on abortion and circumvent the will of the people."