Calling her “inspiring,” President Barack Obama nominated federal court Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic justice to serve on the Supreme Court. Alluding to her impressive résumé, including her current 11-year stint on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which he called one of the toughest in the land, Obama praised the 54-year-old judge for her wide experience and her compassion.
If confirmed by the Senate, Sotomayor, whose parents came to the United States from Puerto Rico during the World War II, would replace retiring Justice David Souter. In a press conference on Tuesday morning (May 26), Obama said Sotomayor would bring more experience to the bench than any of the current justices had when they began their tenure and that like Souter, she would be the only justice on the Court with trial experience. He said she brings “a depth of experience and a breadth of perspective that will be invaluable as a Supreme Court Justice.”
Calling the nomination the “most humbling honor” of her life, Sotomayor paid tribute to the many friends and family who helped her realize her dreams. “My heart today is bursting with gratitude for all you have done for me today,” she said, adding that while she stands “on the shoulders of countless people,” it was her mother, Selena Sotomayor, who is her most abiding inspiration. She said growing up in modest and challenging circumstance, with a father who died when she was 9 and a mother who often had to work two jobs to support the family, helped her learn how to “respect and respond to the concerns and arguments of all litigants who appear before me, as well as my colleagues on the bench.”
Born in a housing project in the Bronx borough of New York City, Sotomayor has spoken often about falling in love with the “Nancy Drew” series of youth spy novels and deciding early on that she wanted to be a detective, but was discouraged from that dream at age 8, when she was diagnosed with diabetes. Latching on to the popularity of the TV court drama “Perry Mason,” Sotomayor switched gears and became determined to get a law degree.
She graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and went on to Yale Law School, where she was editor of the law journal and began her career as an assistant district attorney in New York before entering private practice in 1984. As a sign of her bi-partisan support, Obama mentioned that the first President Bush, a Republican, nominated Sotomayor to serve as a federal judge for the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York. Six years later, Democratic President Bill Clinton nominated her to serve on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1998.
Though they are a weakened minority in Congress, Republicans are expected to put up a strong fight to challenge the president’s first chance to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. Even at a time of severe financial crisis and major upheaval in the country that could cement Obama’s historical footprint as a singularly challenged president, White House scholars were quickly saying that his nomination of Sotomayor to the lifetime position, if confirmed, could leave a lasting legacy well beyond his years in office.
Saying that he was seeking a judge with a “common touch and a sense of compassion” about how the ordinary world works, Obama described the rigorous search for a nominee that included consultation with Constitutional scholars, members of both parties in Congress and his close circle of advisers. Landing on a woman whose hardscrabble rise to prominence mirrors his own inspiring story as the nation’s first black president, Obama said Sotomayor would make a great justice. If confirmed, she would be only the third woman to serve on the court in its first 200 years of existence.
Sotomayor promised that as the country learns more about her, they will see that she is “an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences.” She is perhaps best know for famously taking only 15 minutes to issue an injunction that led to the settlement of the 1994-1995 Major League Baseball strike, swift justice that baseball fan Obama said he greatly appreciated.