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Published: Friday, 7/17/2009

Sotomayor promised swift vote by panel


WASHINGTON - Judge Sonia Sotomayor sped toward confirmation as the nation's first Hispanic justice yesterday, encouraged by Republican promises of a quick vote as the Senate panel hearings wound down.

Even two of her Republican critics called the appeals court judge's rulings "mainstream" - noteworthy concessions for President Obama's first top court nominee. If confirmed, Judge Sotomayor, 55, would become the first justice appointed by a Democratic president in 15 years.

Republicans, expressing concern that she would bring bias to the court, gave Frank Ricci, a white firefighter whose reverse discrimination claim was rejected by Judge Sotomayor and two other appeals court judges, a speaking role at the hearing yesterday.

He said the ruling showed a belief "that citizens should be reduced to racial statistics," but declined when he had a chance to say Judge Sotomayor's nomination should be rejected.

Last month, the Supreme Court overturned the panel's ruling.

Judge Sotomayor ended three days of nationally televised question-and-answer rounds in the Judiciary Committee's witness chair.

"I look forward to you getting that vote before we recess" on Aug. 7, said Sen. Jeff Sessions, (R., Ala.), the panel's senior Republican.

Mr. Sessions, who said he still had "serious concerns," said he wouldn't support any effort to block a final vote on confirmation and didn't foresee any other Republican doing so. A committee vote on her confirmation is expected late this month.

Four days of hearings ended just before nightfall yesterday after an afternoon of testimony from 30 witnesses, including Judge Sotomayor's mentors and supporters as well as critics who voiced concerns about how she'd rule on matters involving abortion, gun rights, and property rights.

In four days of testimony - she gave a brief opening statement on Monday - Judge Sotomayor presented herself as a staunch and impartial defender of the law.

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