SONIA SOTOMAYOR WINS CONFIRMATION, 68-31…. The Senate easily approved Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination this afternoon, and she will join the high court as the 111th justice — and the first Latina — in the fall.

On a 68 to 31 vote, the Senate confirmed Sotomayor, 55, after roughly 18 hours of official debate spread across three days this week, a show of support that included nine Republican ‘aye’ votes and 59 from the Democratic side of the aisle. All 31 votes against Sotomayor came from Republicans.

Sotomayor becomes the third woman to serve on the Supreme Court, following Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. […]

“With this confirmation we will be making progress,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the Judiciary Committee chairman, said in the final hour of debate Thursday. “Years from now, we will remember this time when we crossed paths with a quintessentially American journey of Sonia Sotomayor.”

Sen. Bob Byrd (D-W.Va.), in only his second vote since being hospitalized, returned to the Senate to support Sotomayor’s confirmation.

With the result a foregone conclusion, the only mystery was waiting to see exactly how many Republicans would be willing to support this obviously qualified nominee. Regrettably, less than a fourth of the caucus — nine out of 40 — voted “aye,” and four of the nine did so at least in part because they know they’re retiring next year and don’t have to worry about the wrath of the GOP base.

I keep thinking about something John McCain said last year about the Senate and high court nominees: “When President Bill Clinton nominated Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsberg to serve on the high court, I voted for their confirmation, as did all but a few of my fellow Republicans. Why? For the simple reason that the nominees were qualified, and it would have been petty, and partisan, and disingenuous to insist otherwise. Those nominees represented the considered judgment of the president of the United States. And under our Constitution, it is the president’s call to make.”

It’s funny how the rules change when the White House changes hands.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.