Sonia Sotomayor took a major step in her quest to become the U.S. Supreme Court's first Hispanic and third woman justice when the Senate Judiciary Committee approved her.
A key Senate committee green-lighted Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court, making it all but certain the wider body will confirm the first Hispanic justice.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-6 to advance Sotomayor, President Obama's first Supreme Court nominee, to the full Senate, although all but one Republican on the panel voted against her. South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham was the only GOP senator to vote yes.
The full Senate is expected to vote on Sotomayor's nomination next week.
Republicans are divided on the politically perplexing question of how to vote on Sotomayor. Many are eager to please their core supporters by opposing her but fear a backlash by Hispanic voters, a fast-growing part of the electorate, if they do so.
Obama chose Sotomayor, 55, to replace retiring Justice David Souter, a liberal named by a Republican president, and she's considered unlikely to alter the high court's ideological split. Sotomayor is the daughter of Puerto Rican parents who was raised in a New York City housing project and educated in the Ivy League. She has served on the federal bench for 17 years.
The partisan committee vote was nothing new: The last two nominees, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, passed by votes of 13-5 and 10-8, respectively. They were both nominated by President Bush.
Many Republicans point to Sotomayor's stance on gun rights as a key reason they're voting against her. They complain that she refused to weigh in during her confirmation hearings on whether the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms applies to states as well as the federal government, a question on which the high court has yet to rule. Sotomayor was part of an appeals court panel that said this year that the amendment doesn't restrict state laws, citing previous Supreme Court precedent.
The National Rifle Association, which was slow to announce its opposition to Sotomayor and initially hung back from threatening senators against voting for her, announced last week that it would "score" her confirmation vote, calling her "hostile" to the Second Amendment. That means the NRA will include the vote on Sotomayor in its annual candidate ratings, which heavily influence voters in key battleground states.
Republicans and Democrats from conservative-leaning states generally fear bucking the NRA, and strategists speculate that the group's opposition has tipped the balance for some GOP senators who might otherwise have considered supporting Sotomayor.
A group of Hispanic House Democrats wrote to NRA leaders Monday urging the group to reconsider its stance, saying it was putting some senators in an untenable position by forcing them to choose between defying the gun lobby and infuriating Hispanic constituents.
The anti-abortion rights group Americans United for Life has also weighed in against Sotomayor, writing to senators urging a "no" vote and announcing that it, too, would include her confirmation vote in its annual scorecard.
The group said it was concerned Sotomayor would "undermine any efforts by our elected representatives to pass even the most widely accepted regulations on abortion and circumvent the will of the people."