"Judge Sotomayor is well qualified. She has the highest rating by the American Bar Association," Patrick Leahy, the committee chairman and a democrat, said.

"She has administered justice without favouring one group of persons over another."

Claims of bias

But panel republicans opposed to Sotomayor's appointment to the supreme court argued that her rulings could be made from a biased standpoint.

"[Sotomayor is] of good character ... she was extremely well qualified"

Lindsey Graham, republican who voted for Sotomayor's appointment

Some of her speeches suggested that ethnicity and gender could play a role in her judicial decisions, they said over five days of panel hearings.

"In speech after speech, year after year, Judge Sotomayor set forth a fully formed ... judicial philosophy that conflicts with the great American tradition of blind justice and fidelity to the law as written," Jeff Sessions, the senior republican senator on the committee, said on Tuesday.

But Lindsey Graham, the only republican to vote for Sotomayor and who urged party members to support her, said her qualifications were what prompted him to vote for her appointment.

"She's of good character ... she was extremely well qualified," he said, adding that Sotomayor was "left of centre but certainly in the mainstream".

During the panel hearings, Sotomayor repeatedly denied that she was a "judicial activist", saying that she would maintain fidelity to the law.

Should the full senate give its agreement to Sotomayor joining the nine-member supreme court, she will assume her post in time for a special session in September.

At present, four liberals and five conservatives serve on the bench.

Sotomayor's appointment as a replacement to Justice David Souter, a liberal judge who is retiring, means that the court's ideological outlook will remain largely the same.