By a vote of 68-31, the Senate has voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Her vote was not the most polarizing of recent confirmations: While John Roberts was approved by a vote of 72-22, Samuel Alito was only approved by a vote of 58-42.

Nine Republicans broke ranks and voted for her confirmation, but that's not likely to erase the taint of the GOP's race-based strategy against her. By nominating Sotomayor, Democrats had set up something of a trap for Republicans, where in order to oppose her nomination they would have to face down the headlights of history.

But they didn't have to hasten their own decline. They didn't have to use white disaffection and anger as a weapon against the first Latina justice. They chose to. So whatever the ultimate reasons Republicans gave for voting against her -- whether it was her position on firearms, abortion, or just the generic opposition to "activist judges" -- those aren't the words people will remember. They will remember "Wise Latina." They will remember "Ricci." And they will remember "racist." They will remember that the word "racist," delivered from the mouths of men like Jeff Sessions and James Inhofe, did not mean a belief in the superiority of one race over another. It meant minorities' stubborn desire to reach the perches of power once denied them because of the color of their skin.

Years from now, when the dust over Sotomayor's confirmation has been long settled, the GOP will regret this moment. But it will be too late.

-- A. Serwer

Photo via the The Official White House Photostream

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