Historic nomination: Hispanic Sotomayor as justice

WASHINGTON – Reaching for history, President Barack Obama on Tuesday chose federal appeals judge  Sonia Sotomayor to be the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court,
championing her as a compassionate, seasoned jurist whose
against-the-odds life journey affirms the American dream. Republicans
who will decide whether to make a fight of her confirmation said they
want thorough hearings.

However, defeating
Sotomayor would be difficult in the heavily Democratic Senate, and even
a major effort to block her confirmation could be risky for a party
still reeling from last year's elections. Hispanics are the
fastest-growing part of the population and increasingly active
politically.

Obama, eager to begin putting his
imprint on the court, beamed as he introduced Sotomayor as a judge who
displays both an impressive mind and heart, a jurist who takes on cases
with "an understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people
live." He raved about her credentials, saying she would start on the
job with more experience on the bench than any of the current nine
justices had when they began.

The White House
tableau itself was history: A black president and his white vice
president, Joe Biden, striding onto a stage in the ornate East Room
with the nominee who grew up in a New York housing project where her
parents had moved from Puerto Rico.

At 54, Sotomayor (pronounced soh-toh-my-YOR'), would join Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second woman on the court and just the third in its history. She would replace liberal Justice David Souter,
thereby maintaining the court's ideological divide. A number of
important cases have been divided by 5-4 majorities, with conservative-
and liberal-leaning justices split 4-4 and Justice Anthony Kennedy providing the decisive vote.

Senate
Republicans pledged to give her a fair hearing but cautioned they would
question her rigorously and not be rushed. The president, whose approval ratings trump those of Congress, challenged the Senate to move swiftly and confirm her before Congress' August break. The Supreme Court begins its new term in October.

Democrats
hold 59 votes in the Senate, more than enough to confirm Sotomayor but
not quite enough to stop a vote-blocking filibuster if Republicans
should attempt one.

The top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell
of Kentucky, said: "We will thoroughly examine her record to ensure she
understands that the role of a jurist in our democracy is to apply the
law evenhandedly, despite their own feelings or personal or political
preferences."

In one of her most notable decisions as an appellate judge, she sided last year with the city of New Haven, Conn.,
in a discrimination case brought by white firefighters. The city threw
out results of a promotion exam because too few minorities scored high
enough. Coincidentally, that case is now before the Supreme Court.

Her ruling had already drawn criticism from conservatives and is likely to play a role in her confirmation hearing.

Still,
seven of the Senate's current Republicans voted to confirm her for the
appeals court in 1998, and she was first nominated to be a federal
judge by Republican President George H.W. Bush.

Born
in the South Bronx, Sotomayor lost her father at a young age and
watched her mother work two jobs to provide for her and her brother.
Her path has soared ever since: Princeton University and Yale Law
School, then positions as a commercial litigator, federal district judge and appellate judge.

"What
you've shown in your life is that it doesn't matter where you come
from, what you look like or what challenges life throws your way,"
Obama said Sotomayor stood at his side at a packed White House event.
"No dream is beyond reach in the United States of America."

Said the nominee: "I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences."

Obama's selection was not just about the next justice but also the new president.

He
had not met Sotomayor until he interviewed her last Thursday at the
White House. She was the only one of the four finalists he did not
know. But in addition to her other qualifications, she offered a
politically attractive background and appealing narrative.

Justices
on the nine-member court receive lifetime appointments and can have a
profound influence on daily life. Sotomayor would be a new voice on the
cases that often reflect divisions in the broader society, including
national security, abortion, gay rights and privacy.

Even
before she was nominated, conservative activists were describing her as
a judicial activist who would put feelings above the Constitution.

Sotomayor seemed to take the matter head on. She said the rule
of law is the foundation of all basic rights and the principles set
forth by the Founding Fathers endure. "Those principles," she said at
the White House, "are as meaningful and relevant in each generation as
the generation before."

The nomination of the woman who would be the first Hispanic
justice comes with the United States on a population path that will see
minorities become the majority, and Hispanic leaders saw Tuesday's
nomination as significant.

"We are reaching a certain level politically and socially, and
this is being recognized by the administration," said Gabriela Lemus of
the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

As a kid in New York's South Bronx, Sotomayor had to deal with diabetes but dreamed of a career in law, inspired by reading Nancy Drew books and watching "Perry Mason" on TV.

"Although I grew up in very modest and challenging circumstances, I
consider my life to be immeasurably rich," said Sotomayor, who smiled
broadly as she introduced her mother, Celina, in the front row. The
nominee is divorced with no children.

Yet it is her written and spoken opinions, not her compelling
life story, that are likely to shape the tone of her confirmation
consideration in the Senate.

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee,
said he had talked with Obama and Sotomayor Tuesday and assured them
she would be treated fairly. "I'd like it to be a hearing that people
can be proud of," he said.

In one of her most memorable rulings as federal district judge,
in 1995, Sotomayor ruled with Major League Baseball players over owners
in a labor strike that had led to the cancellation of the World Series. "Some say that Judge Sotomayor saved baseball," Obama said.

She became a federal judge for the Southern District of New York in 1992, then an appeals judge in 1998 for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers New York, Vermont and Connecticut.

Obama chose her over three other finalists: federal appellate judge Diane Wood, Solicitor General Elena Kagan and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Obama interviewed all of them, too, last week. He decided on Sotomayor
at about 8 p.m. Monday and telephoned her with the good news.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama never questioned Sotomayor specifically about abortion, often a flash-point topic for court nominees.

Obama came to office at a time when several potential vacancies loomed on the high court. Justice John Paul Stevens is 89, and Ginsburg recently underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer.

Sotomayor has spoken about her pride in her ethnic background
and has said that personal experiences "affect the facts that judges
choose to see."

"I simply do not know exactly what the difference will be in my
judging," she said in a speech in 2001. "But I accept there will be
some based on my gender and my Latina heritage."

___

Associated Press writers David Espo, Darlene Superville, Ben
Evans, Jesse J. Holland and Julie Hirschfeld Davis contributed to this
story.

Article found at:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090526/ap_on_go_pr_wh/us_obama_supreme_court

LLC