Page last updated at 15:25 GMT, Saturday, 8 August 2009 16:25 UK

Sotomayor joins US Supreme Court

Sonia Sotomayor is sworn in to the Supreme Court

Sonia Sotomayor has been sworn in as the United States' first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, after a summer of debate over her nomination.

Ms Sotomayor, 55, becomes only the third woman to sit on the court.

On Thursday, the Senate voted 68-31 to approve her 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.

Ms Sotomayor was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts at a brief ceremony that was the first one open to television cameras in the court's history.

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

Standing next to her mother and brother, she pledged to "faithfully and impartially" discharge her duties.

The public ceremony followed a private one minutes earlier in which she promised to support and defend the constitution.

Sonia Sotomayor is President Barack Obama's first nominee to the nine-member court.

Her appointment - as a successor to liberal Justice David Souter, who retired - is not expected to change its ideological balance.

Ms Sotomayor was born to poor Puerto Rican parents on a New York public housing project, rising to become a respected judicial scholar and judge.

Some Republicans had been critical of her record of speeches - and some rulings - saying they had revealed that she allowed 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".

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