WASHINGTON — President Obama announced on Tuesday [May 26] that he will nominate the federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, choosing a daughter of Puerto Rican parents raised in Bronx public housing projects to become the nation’s first Hispanic justice.
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The president... made it clear that the judge’s inspiring personal story was crucial in his decision. Mr. Obama praised his choice as someone possessing “a rigorous intellect, a mastery of the law.”
But those essential qualities are not enough, the president said. Quoting Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mr. Obama said, “The life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience.” It is vitally important that a justice know “how the world works, and how ordinary people live,” the president said.
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Judge Sotomayor, 54, who has served for more than a decade on the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, based in New York City, would become the nation’s 111th justice, replacing David H. Souter, who is retiring after 19 years on the bench.
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The first President Bush nominated her in 1991 to the federal district court on the recommendation of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democrat of New York, and she was confirmed a year later. President Bill Clinton decided to elevate her to the appeals court in 1997, and she was confirmed a year later.
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Indeed, in nominating the first Hispanic justice, Mr. Obama may appeal to a large and growing constituency whose party loyalty is still very much in play. Hispanic groups have expressed excitement about the idea of one of their own serving on the high court. (Some scholars argue whether Benjamin Cardozo was really the first Hispanic justice, but with his Portuguese-Jewish background, he never identified himself as a Hispanic.)
On the appeals court, Judge Sotomayor has not been involved in many hotly disputed decisions, but one that she participated in is before the Supreme Court right now. As part of a panel, she voted to uphold New Haven’s decision to throw out a set of fire department promotion tests because no minority candidates made the top of the list. White firefighters who scored high but were denied promotion are appealing that ruling.
As a district judge, she briefly earned fame in 1995 by ending a Major League Baseball strike, ruling in favor of players and against the owners, who she said were trying to subvert the labor system.
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She also once said at a conference that a “court of appeals is where policy is made,” a statement that has drawn criticism from conservatives who saw it as a sign of judicial activism. Judge Sotomayor seemed to understand at the time that she was making a controversial statement, adding that, “I know this is on tape, and I should never say that, because we don’t make law.”
Conservatives quickly pointed to such statements after word of her selection on Tuesday.
“Judge Sotomayor is a liberal activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important than the law as written,” said Wendy E. Long, counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network, an activist group. “She thinks that judges should dictate policy, and that one’s sex, race and ethnicity ought to affect the decisions one renders from the bench.”
White House officials concluded that such statements, while perhaps providing fodder for opponents, would not be problematic enough to hinder her confirmation. Some officials have said in recent days that they relish the prospect of Republicans standing up against a Hispanic woman with her life story, because it would only damage the G.O.P. with a key voting bloc.
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...Democrats are within reach of the 60 votes necessary to choke off a filibuster, and Republicans concede that they have little hope of blocking confirmation barring unforeseen revelations.
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