Page last updated at 20:01 GMT, Thursday, 6 August 2009 21:01 UK

Sotomayor approved by US Senate

Barack Obama: 'Judge Sotomayor will make an outstanding justice'

The US Senate has voted to approve Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the US Supreme Court.

Ms Sotomayor, 55, will become the first Hispanic justice and only the third woman to sit on the court.

The Senate voted 68-31 to approve Ms Sotomayor, with 59 Democrats and nine Republicans voting in favour.

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the US, with the power to strike down unconstitutional laws. Once appointed, justices serve for life.

They are nominated by the president, but must receive approval from a majority of senators before they can take up their post.

'Inspiring' story

Mr Obama hailed the Senate vote as "historic".

"The Senate has affirmed that Justice 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 added.

Sonia Sotomayor
1954: Born in South Bronx to Puerto Rican parents
Father died when she was aged nine and she was raised solely by her mother
1979: Graduates from Yale and serves as an assistant district attorney in New York County
1984: Moves into private practice, specialising in intellectual property
1991: George Bush Snr chooses her as a district judge
1997: Bill Clinton nominates her to the circuit court

"This is a wonderful day for Judge Sotomayor and her family, but I also think it's a wonderful day for America."

With his fellow Democrats holding a majority in the Senate, Mr Obama was not expected to face any difficulties getting his nominee confirmed.

In advance of the Senate vote, a number of moderate Republicans indicated that they would also be backing her, making her confirmation even more likely.

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, rising to become a respected judicial scholar and judge.

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

During her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, she was asked repeatedly about a speech in which she had remarked that "a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion" than a white male judge.

Critics said the remark could have been perceived as racist, but Ms Sotomayor maintained the comments had been an attempted "play on words" that "fell flat".

Ms Sotomayor has also been criticised by conservatives for upholding a ruling in June last year, rejecting the reverse discrimination claims of white firefighters in Connecticut.

The Supreme Court later ruled in favour of the white firefighters.

Because she is replacing a retiring liberal justice - David Souter - correspondents say Ms Sotomayor is unlikely to alter the current political balance of the court.

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