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August 7, 2009

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Sotomayor set to make US history as justice

SONIA Sotomayor stood on the verge of becoming the US Supreme Court's first Hispanic justice, as President Barack Obama makes his imprint on the powerful top court.

The Democratic-led Senate was set to vote yesterday to confirm Sotomayor, a 55-year-old appeals court judge of Puerto Rican descent who was raised in a New York City public housing project, educated in elite universities and served 17 years on the federal bench.

Sotomayor picked up more Republican support on Wednesday even as nearly three-quarters of the Senate's 40 Republicans said they would vote "no" and contended she would bring liberal bias and personal sympathies to her decisions.

With all Democrats expected to back her, she has more than enough votes to be confirmed, barring a surprise turn of events, in one of the Senate's last actions before it breaks for the summer.

Obama named Sotomayor to replace retiring Justice David Souter, a liberal named by a Republican president, and she is not expected to alter the court's ideological balance.

She would become the third woman on the nine-member court, where justices serve until they retire or die.

Democrats, praising her as a well-qualified judge and a mainstream moderate, are warning Republicans that they risk a backlash from Hispanic voters if they oppose her.

But Republicans bristle at the suggestion, noting that Democrats used extraordinary measures several years ago to block the confirmation of Republican-nominated Miguel Estrada, a Honduran-born attorney, to a federal appeals court.

Republican senators say their opposition to Sotomayor is based on her speeches and record, pointing to a few rulings in which they argue she showed disregard for gun rights, property rights and job discrimination claims by white employees.

Just a handful of Republicans are backing Sotomayor, and most of them say that while they disagree with some of her views and rulings, they believe she's well-qualified. Senator Kit Bond said partisanship has no place in debates over judges.

"There's been no significant finding against her, there's been no public uprising against her," he said. "I will support her, I'll be proud for her, the community she represents and the American dream she shows is possible."


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