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Las Vegans react to Sotomayor confirmation

Group gathers to watch historic vote that saw Reid, Ensign split

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AP Photo/New York Law Journal, Rick Kopstein

Supreme Court Justice designate Sonia Sotomayor smiles during a celebration at the federal courthouse in New York after being confirmed by the Senate as the nation’s first Hispanic Supreme Court justice on Thursday.

Updated Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009 | 7:16 p.m.

Sotomayor confirmation

Kenneth Ortiz, from left, Perla Gomez, Francisco Morales and Joseph Hill talk during a watch party at Esmeralda's Cafe in Las Vegas to view the U.S. Senate voting on Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation to the Supreme Court on Thursday. Launch slideshow »

Sotomayor Confirmation

The Senate confirmed Sonia Sotomayor on Thursday as the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court.

The vote was 68-31 for President Barack Obama's first high court nominee as she becomes the 111th justice and just the third woman to serve. Sen. Harry Reid voted in favor and Sen. John Ensign voted against the confirmation.

Members of the Las Vegas Hispanic community who gathered to watch the confirmation at Esmeralda’s restaurant on East Charleston Boulevard were jubilant Thursday afternoon.

The event was sponsored by Democracia Ahora, a nonpartisan Latino empowerment organization. Marco Rauda, the group's Nevada director, said he wanted to let the community know about the milestone.

"This is definitely a historic moment," Rauda said.

Rauda said Sotomayor's confirmation is a positive step for both the Latino community and women. He said it goes to show that hard work and education can pay off no matter what a person’s background might be.

"This just means my little sisters don't have an excuse," he said. "It means coming from a rough neighborhood should not stop you, being a child of an immigrant should not stop you to get where you want to get to, as long as you go to school."

Rauda also said Sotomayor's addition to the Supreme Court would not only benefit Latinos but the country as a whole, saying Sotomayor brings extensive experience to the court.

Another watcher, 16-year-old Joseph Hill, said he recently had a discussion about Thurgood Marshall's confirmation to the court and the effect it had on the black community. Hill said Sotomayor's confirmation will have the same influence on Latinos in the United States.

"With me being an interracial individual, it really hits home that there is a bigger picture … that we all don't have to set ourselves up for failure, and that we can make it somewhere in life," Joseph said.

Vicenta Montoya, who is chairwoman of the Si Se Puede Latino Democratic Caucus, expressed happiness and a sense of pride as she watched the Senate vote Thursday.

"I've looked forward to this for years," Montoya said, adding that Sotomayor's confirmation shows the country is growing up.

Montoya said she'll always remember where she was when the confirmation occurred. It is something, she said, she'll be able to share with her daughter, whom she brought, and in turn, her daughter will be able to share with her children.

"It's nice to get over the first -- the first Latino, first black, first Asian, whatever. It's nice to have those milestones already set, and we can go past it," she said.

As the group watched the television, senators took the rare step of assembling at their desks on the Senate floor for the historic occasion, rising from their seats to cast their votes.

Sotomayor replaces retiring Justice David Souter, a liberal named by a Republican president, and she is not expected to alter the court's ideological split. Democrats praised the 55-year-old Sotomayor as a mainstream moderate. But most Republicans voted against her, saying she'd bring personal bias and a liberal agenda to the bench.

Reid released a statement minutes after the vote, saying "the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States is an inspiration to not only millions of young women and Hispanic Americans, but our nation as whole. Judge Sotomayor has proven that she will be a Supreme Court Justice who respects precedent and the rule of law and will be a fair arbiter of justice to all. She has exhibited intelligence, candor, eloquence and grace not only during this confirmation process, but throughout her entire career.

Ensign released a statement Tuesday explaining his opposition to Sotomayor’s nomination.

“While I believe Judge Sotomayor is an impressive role model for millions of Americans, I take my responsibility as Nevada’s Senator very seriously, and feel I need to protect the sanctity of our Constitution," the statement read.

Nevada Democrats lashed out at Senate Republicans on Thursday for putting “politics first” and “voting against an imminently qualified nominee.”

“Today’s vote speaks volumes about the Republican Party’s willingness, and even its ability, to represent all its constituents, especially those with diverse backgrounds like that of Judge Sonia Sotomayor," said Phoebe Sweet, communications director for the Nevada State Democratic Party.

Tibi Ellis, chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Hispanic Assembly, said she is happy Sotomayor was confirmed, and it is a historic moment to have the first Hispanic woman on the Supreme Court. In response to Republicans voting against Sotomayor, Ellis said members of her party did so based not on her credentials but on her history of political activism.

She said she doesn't believe it will influence the Hispanic vote in the future. Ellis said she hopes Sotomayor can put aside her political views to serve a larger responsibility to the Constitution.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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