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Senate panel approves Sotomayor

Statements by members of the committee ahead of the vote

A key Senate panel has voted in favour of Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the US Supreme Court.

The majority-Democrat Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-6 to back 55-year-old Ms Sotomayor.

Her nomination will now go to the full Senate, where she is expected to be confirmed as the court's first Hispanic justice in a historic vote next week.

Her nomination has been vocally opposed by a chorus of Republicans who believe she is too liberal.

But correspondents say Ms Sotomayor is unlikely to alter the ideological balance on the court as she is set to replace retiring Justice David Souter, a liberal.

The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the US Constitution, and its nine members are given lifetime appointments, though they can voluntarily resign or retire.

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee on 16 July 2009
Ms Sotomayor's supporters say her life story is inspiring

It is called upon to rule on issues that spark some of the greatest controversy in US society - such as abortion, gun rights and national security issues.

Judge Sotomayer is "well-qualified... she has administered justice without favouring one group of persons over another," said the committee chairman, Democrat Patrick Leahy, before casting his vote on Tuesday.

One Republican, Lindsey Graham, joined all 12 Democrats on the committee in approving Ms Sotomayor, who is President Barack Obama's first Supreme Court nominee.

'Inspiring'

"She's of good character... she was extremely well-qualified," said Senator Graham, according to Reuters news agency.

He noted that Ms Sotomayor was "left-of-centre but certainly in the mainstream".

Year after year, she set forth a judicial philosophy that conflicts with the great American tradition of blind justice
Jeff Sessions
Republican Senator

Ms Sotomayor's supporters say she has a reliable record - and they cite her "inspiring" life story.

She was born to poor Puerto Rican parents on a New York public housing project, but rose to become a respected judicial scholar and judge.

The committee vote came after Ms Sotomayor and witnesses spent days testifying in front of the panel.

She responded cautiously to questions on some of the "hot-button issues" - prompting some members to complain that they were unable to gauge fully her stance on them.

Hispanic vote

Republicans claim Ms Sotomayer's record of speeches - and some rulings - shows she allows her opinion to affect her decisions.

"In speech after speech, year after year, Judge Sotomayor set forth a fully formed... judicial philosophy that conflicts with the great American tradition of blind justice and fidelity to the law as written," said Senator Jeff Sessions, the senior Republican on the committee.

The powerful National Rifle Association has come out against Ms Sotomayor over her record on gun rights, although some commentators suggest she has made few definitive statements on the issue.

Observers suggest other Republicans may give her nomination cautious support, aware of the growing power of the Hispanic vote.



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