The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday voted to approve Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice over nearly solid Republican opposition, paving the way for a historic confirmation vote.
The panel voted 13-6 in favor of Sotomayor, with just one Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, joining Democrats to support her.
The nearly party-line tally masked deeper political divisions within GOP ranks about confirming President Barack Obama's first high court nominee.
"I'm deciding to vote for a woman I would not have chosen," Graham said. Obama's choice to nominate the first-ever Latina to the highest court is "a big deal," he added, declaring that, "America has changed for the better with her selection."
The solid Republican vote against Sotomayor on the Judiciary panel reflected the choice many GOP conservatives have made to side with their core supporters and oppose a judge they charge will bring liberal bias and racial and gender prejudices to her decisions.
Others in the party, however, are concerned that doing so could hurt their efforts to broaden their base, and particularly alienate Hispanic voters, a fast-growing segment of the electorate.
Democrats, for their part, are lining up solidly in favor of the 55-year-old federal appeals court judge, the daughter of Puerto Rican parents who was raised in a South Bronx housing project and educated in the Ivy League.
"There's not one example -- let alone a pattern -- of her ruling based on bias or prejudice or sympathy," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the Judiciary Committee chairman. "She has administered justice without favoring one group of persons over another."
The senior Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, countered that Sotomayor's speeches and a few of her rulings show she would let her opinions interfere in decisions.
"In speech after speech, year after year, Judge Sotomayor set forth a fully formed, I believe, judicial philosophy that conflicts with the great American tradition of blind justice and fidelity to the law as written," Sessions said.