That is likely to happen again when the Senate votes in coming months on Sotomayor's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
President Barack Obama nominated the career jurist as the possible first Hispanic justice - and only the third woman justice - in the history of the nation's highest court.
Those distinctions make Sotomayor's confirmation by the Democratic-majority Senate virtually certain, analysts say. They also note that Republican President George H.W. Bush first nominated Sotomayor as a federal judge, indicating broad political appeal.
A senior White House official told CNN that Sotomayor was "nominated by George Bush - then Bill Clinton - (and has) more judicial experience than anyone sitting on the court had at the time they were nominated."
The partisan divide over the nomination was immediately evident. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will first consider Sotomayor's nomination, called her record exemplary for a candidate to succeed retiring Justice David Souter - a liberal voice on the high court.
"I believe that Judge Sotomayor will be in the mold of Justice Souter, who understands the real-world impact of the court's decisions, rather than the mold of the conservative activists who second-guess Congress, and who through judicial extremism undercut laws meant to protect Americans from discrimination in their jobs, their access to health care and education, and their privacy from an overreaching government," Leahy's statement said. "I believe Judge Sotomayor understands that the courthouse doors must be as open to ordinary Americans as they are to government and big corporations."
The National Organization for Woman said Sotomayor "brings a lifelong commitment to equality, justice and opportunity, as well as the respect of her peers, unassailable integrity, and a keen intellect informed by experience.
However, Wendy E. Long of the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, described Sotomayor as a "liberal judicial activist of the first order," code language for opposition by the political right.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called for a vigorous confirmation process to "thoroughly examine her record to ensure she understands that the role of a jurist in our democracy is to apply the law even-handedly, despite their own feelings or personal or political preferences."
"Our Democratic colleagues have often remarked that the Senate is not a 'rubber stamp.' " McConnell said. "Accordingly, we trust they will ensure there is adequate time to prepare for this nomination, and a full and fair opportunity to question the nominee and debate her qualifications."
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, said Sotomayor must "prove her commitment to impartially deciding cases based on the law, rather than based on her own personal politics, feelings, and preferences."
The confirmation process will begin with Senate Judiciary Committee hearings expected in July. The committee will decide whether to send the nomination to the full chamber, which will make the final confirmation decision.
Obama has said he wants Sotomayor confirmed before the Senate goes on its August break to ensure that Sotomayor, if confirmed, can be seated with the Supreme Court when it begins its new session in October. Leahy endorsed that timetable, saying Tuesday: "We are committed to ensuring that the next justice is seated before the court's term begins in October."
Senate Republicans, however, want to allow time for an upcoming Supreme Court decision on an appellate ruling by Sotomayor in an affirmative action case involving New Haven, Connecticut, firefighters.
A three-judge panel that included Sotomayor upheld a lower court ruling that supported the decision of New Haven officials to throw out results of promotional exams that they said left too few minorities qualified.
The high court was asked to decide whether there is a continued need for special treatment for minorities, or whether enough progress has been made to make existing laws obsolete, especially in a political atmosphere where an African-American occupies the White House.
Long said the New Haven case showed that Sotomayor "reads racial preferences and quotas into the Constitution, even to the point of dishonoring those who preserve our public safety."