Tuesday, May 26, 2009
U.S. President Obama on Tuesday nominated federal appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court, where she will become the first Hispanic and the third woman if her nomination is confirmed.
Calling Sotomayor "an inspiring woman who I believe will make a great justice," Obama outlined her qualifications and background as the prime reasons for his selection.
Administration officials say Sotomayor, with 17 years on the bench, would bring more judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice confirmed in the past 70 years. But Obama said that more than just her experience made her his nominee.
The president had said publicly that he wanted a justice who combined intellect and empathy — someone who could understand the troubles of everyday Americans.
Sotomayor will bring "the wisdom accumulated from a life's journey," Obama said during the announcement at the White House.
A graduate of Yale Law School, Sotomayor was nominated to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals by President Clinton. She previously served as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and in private practice in New York, specializing in intellectual property law, international litigation and commodities export trading.
Sotomayor, appearing with Obama, thanked her friends and family for their support — singling out her mother in particular.
"Although I grew up in very modest and challenging circumstances, I consider my life to be immeasurably rich," she said.
Sotomayor grew up in a Bronx housing project after her parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico. She suffered from juvenile diabetes that forced her to start insulin injections at age 8. Her father, a tool-and-die worker, died when she was 9, and Sotomayor was raised by her mother, a nurse.
As a girl, she was inspired by the Perry Mason television show and knew she wanted to be a judge. "I realized that the judge was the most important player in that room," she said in a 1998 interview.
Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton and went to Yale Law School, where she served on the law journal.
According to her official biography, Sotomayor began her legal career as an assistant district attorney in New York County in 1979. She served as an associate and eventually became a partner with the law firm of Pavia and Harcourt in New York from 1984 until she became a federal judge for the Southern District of New York in 1992.
Democrats hold a large majority in the Senate, and barring the unexpected, Sotomayor's confirmation should be assured.
If approved, she would join Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second woman on the current court. Obama's nomination is the first by a Democratic president in 15 years.
As a judge, Sotomayor has a bipartisan pedigree. She was first appointed to the federal bench by a Republican, President George H.W. Bush, and then named an appeals judge by Clinton in 1997.
At her Senate confirmation hearing more than a decade ago, she said, "I don't believe we should bend the Constitution under any circumstance. It says what it says. We should do honor to it."
In one of her most memorable rulings as federal district judge, Sotomayor essentially salvaged professional baseball in 1995, ruling with players over owners in a labor strike that had led to the cancellation of the World Series.
As an appellate judge, she sided with the city of New Haven, Conn., in a discrimination case brought by white firefighters after the city threw out the results of a promotion exam because too few minorities scored high enough. In an odd twist, that case is now before the Supreme Court.
Sotomayor is a member of the American Bar Association, the New York City Chapter of the Women's Bar Association, the Hispanic National Bar Association, the Puerto Rican Bar Association, the Association of Judges of Hispanic Heritage, the National Association of Women Judges and the American Philosophical Society. She is fluent in both English and Spanish.