By Susan Crabtree - 08/08/09 12:04 PM EDT
Surrounded by family and friends, Sonia Sotomayor was sworn in as the first Hispanic justice and the third woman to serve on the Supreme Court in its 220-year history.
Justice Sotomayor’s mother held the Bible as her daughter took the second of two oaths of office Saturday morning from Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. The televised event, held in a conference room in the high court, was the second of two oaths Sotomayor pledged to abide. She swore the first oath in a private ceremony held right before the more public event.
In the first private oath, she promised to support and defend the Constitution.
After the second oath, Roberts congratulated Sotomayor and welcomed her to the high court. She then embraced her mother and her brother, who was standing beside her during the oath, and exited the room smiling broadly.
Justice Anthony Kennedy was also in attendance.
The swearing-in ceremony took place two days after the Senate voted 68-31 to confirm her nomination after nearly 20 hours of debate. Only nine Republicans voted for her – a demonstration of the divisive, partisan reaction to President Obama’s first nomination to the high court. More senators voted against her than voted against Roberts’ confirmation, but fewer than President Bush’s other nominee, Samuel Alito.
The ceremony was held on Saturday to ensure Sotomayor’s quick ascension to the high court. Sotomayor, 55, replaced retired Justice David Souter, a consistent liberal vote on the court.
Sotomayor will be quickly getting to work: The court is set to hear arguments Sept. 9 in a campaign finance case.
“There is a great desire on the part of both Justice Sotomayor and her colleagues on the court to get to work,” said CNN legal expert Jeffrey Toobin after the ceremony. “…Most swearing-ins of justices have taken place within 48 hours of the confirmation vote in the Senate.”
The public pledges to defend the Constitution and impartially uphold the laws of the United States capped a 10-week confirmation battle in which conservative Republicans accused her of judicial activism and quoted speeches she made, including a now-famous comment about the superior judgment of a “wise Latina.”
They also questioned her votes on cases involving gun and property rights, as well as a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by white firefighters in New Haven, Conn.
Democrats argued that Sotomayor was exceedingly qualified, mainstream and moderate in her rulings.
President Obama, who did not attend Saturday’s ceremony, will hold a White House reception in her honor Wednesday. On Sept. 8, the Supreme Court will hold a private investiture ceremony in which she will take her seat on the dais for the first time.