Democrats praised Sotomayor as a judicial moderate, while the Republicans who voted against her said she was too liberal, and would bring a personal bias to the court. Sotomayor is replacing liberal justice David Souter, so the balance of the court will not be changed by Sotomayor's confirmation.
The vote itself was rich with history and drama. Senators took the rare step of assembling at their desks on the Senate floor for the occasion, rising from their seats to cast their votes. West Virginia Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, 91, the longest-serving senator who has been in frail health following a long hospitalization, was brought into the chamber in a wheelchair to vote. Sen. Ted Kennedy, suffering from brain cancer, was absent.
"History awaits, and so does an anxious Hispanic community in this country," said Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the Senate's lone Hispanic Democrat. "When she places her hand on the Bible and takes the oath of office, the new portrait of the justices of the Supreme Court will clearly reflect who we are as a nation, what we stand for as a fair, just and hopeful people."
The Republicans who voted for Sotomayor said that while they might disagree with some of her rulings, statements or views, she is well-qualified to serve on the nation's highest court.
"Judge Sotomayor's decisions, while not always the decision I would render, are not outside the legal mainstream and do not indicate an obvious desire to legislate from the bench," said Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio.
The 55-year-old Sotomayor hails from a housing project in The Bronx, New York. She rose from those humble beginnings to attend Princeton University, then Yale Law School. She's been a U.S. Court of Appeals judge since 1998.