The U.S. Senate has confirmed the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor as an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. President Barack Obama welcomed the 68 to 31 vote, which came after three days of debate on Sotomayor's judicial record and public statements.
Fifty-nine Senate Democrats supported confirmation of Sotomayor for the high court, joined by 9 of 40 Senate Republicans.
At the White House, President Obama said the vote confirmed that Sotomayor is fully equipped for the court and that she would uphold equal justice under the law.
"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," he said.
In the hours before the vote, Democrats and Republicans voiced opposing views about cases Sotomayor ruled on in her 17 years as a federal judge as well as some of her writings and public statements.
While all agreed she was highly-qualified, Republicans renewed their assertions that she would bring a left-wing political bias to the high court, and introduced letters from anti-abortion, gun rights and other groups opposing her nomination.
Republicans focused, among other things, on their assertion that Sotomayor would carry out an activist agenda and allow her personal empathy for certain racial and ethnic groups to influence her decisions.
Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said an empathy standard as Republicans assert President Barack Obama endorsed for the selection of judges would set a dangerous precedent.
"The president's empathy standard is much more than a rhetorical flourish," he said. "It is a dangerous judicial philosophy where judges would base their rulings on their social, personal [and] political views. It is an attempt to sell really an old discredited activist philosophy by marketing it under a new label."
During her confirmation hearing, Sotomayor - the first Hispanic to be nominated for the Supreme Court - said she regretted public statements in which she suggested that a wise Latina would be able to reach a better decision in a case based on her experiences than a white male judge, saying that her comments were aimed at inspiring young law students.
Democrats accused Republicans of focusing on a fraction of the more than 3,000 cases Sotomayor was involved in, and said she would bring impartiality and a fidelity to the law to the court.
Democrat Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Sotomayor's record in federal courts demonstrated she would not allow her personal experiences to dominate the law, although those experiences would help inform her decisions.
Leahy responded to the Republican empathy argument. "Some of those choosing to oppose this historic nomination have tried to justify their opposition by falsely contending that President Obama is pitting empathy against the rule of law. Not so! Not so!," he said.
Sotomayor rose from an upbringing in New York in a poor family from Puerto Rico, to attend prestigious universities and pursue a career as a prosecutor before she was nominated to the federal bench in 1991 by former Republican President George H.W. Bush.
In addition to being the first person of Hispanic heritage to serve on the Supreme Court, she is only the third woman to ascend to the high court.
Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California referred to both facts in her floor statement before the vote.
"She will become only the third woman, the third woman ever to don [i.e., put on] the robes of a Supreme Court justice," she said. "She will make history as the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice. This is a proud moment for our entire nation and especially for the 13 million Latinos in California, and the 45 million Latinos nationwide."
As is the tradition for votes of major significance such as the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice, all senators were seated when the final vote to confirm Sotomayor was taken.
Al Franken, newly appointed to the Senate as a Democrat from Minnesota, announced the result.
"On this vote, the 'yeas' are 68 and the 'nays' are 31," he said. "The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor of New York to be associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States is confirmed."
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the oath of office to Sotomayor on Saturday. There will be two ceremonies, one private and one public. The public event will be the first at which television cameras will be permitted.
Sotomayor - who replaces retired Justice David Souter - will assume her seat as the nation's 111th Supreme Court justice in September because the high court will convene to consider a case pending before it, although its formal session begins in October.