Obama nominates first Hispanic Supreme Court justice

US President Barack Obama nominated appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor to be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice. Sotomayor will replace retiring Justice David Souter. Her nomination now awaits Senate confirmation.


AFP - President Barack Obama Tuesday nominated judge Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, praising her "brilliant" legal mind and wisdom nurtured by an "inspiring" American story.

Sotomayor represents Obama's first attempt to shape the high court for a generation, and she is a pick in his own image, having overcome humble origins as a minority child to reach the pinnacle of US public life.

Her nomination delighted Latino voters, a fast-growing demographic bloc which helped power Obama's 2008 election win, and put a political squeeze on any Republicans plotting to thwart her Senate confirmation process.

"I have decided to nominate an inspiring woman who I believe will make a great justice, Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the great state of New York," Obama said at the White House.

Obama, who interviewed a shortlist of four women, from an original 40 person list, said he had searched for a nominee of "rigorous intellect" who understood judges should interpret and not make law.

"She's faced down barriers, overcome the odds, and lived out the American dream," Obama said of Sotomayor, 54, who got her first taste for justice by reading Nancy Drew detective novels as a child.

"She has never forgotten where she began, never lost touch with the community that supported her," Obama said, noting that Sotomayor, a New York Yankees fan, is famed for a ruling that ended the 1994-95 Major League Baseball strike.

"What Sonia will bring to the court, then, is not only the knowledge and experience acquired over a course of a brilliant legal career, but the wisdom accumulated from an inspiring life's journey."

If confirmed, Sotomayor, who has spent 11 years on the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, will replace retiring Justice David Souter but will not likely alter the court's current conservative tilt.

Sotomayor, who was born to a Puerto Rican family in the Bronx and lost her father at age nine, said she had far exceeded her childhood dreams.

She vowed to uphold cherished constitutional principles but also to consider how her rulings affect ordinary people.

"I strive never to forget the real world consequences of my decisions on individuals, businesses and government."

A senior White House official signalled the administration was ready to deploy Obama's power to defend Sotomayor if needed.

"We are not expecting a war," the official said, but added "the president believes deeply in this nominee, and she is going to get the full backing of the White House."

The president was under pressure to pick a woman and a minority, for a body long dominated by white males.

Aides said he finally decided on Sotomayor on Monday at 8:00 pm.

They also said they were confident that Sotomayor, despite suffering from Type-A diabetes, which can lower life expectancy by 7 to 10 years, was in "good health" and they expected her to serve for years to come.

Senate Judiciary hearings are expected by July to allow a full vote on Sotomayor before the court's new term in October.

"Today is a monumental day for Latinos," said Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, the biggest US Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization.

"Finally, we see ourselves represented on the highest court in the land."

Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee said Sotomayor's record was "exemplary."

The Senate's top Republican Mitch McConnell promised fair treatment but vowed to "thoroughly examine" Sotomayor's record.

Scholar Roger Pilon of the libertarian Cato Institute, slammed Sotomayor as "the most radical of all the frequently mentioned candidates" and predicted a contentious confirmation battle.

Wendy Long, counsel to conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, warned "Judge Sotomayor ... thinks that judges should dictate policy, and that one's sex, race, and ethnicity ought to affect the decisions one renders from the bench."

Absent ethical revelations about Sotomayor, Democrats are expected to prevail, given their large majority in the Senate.

Princeton-educated Sotomayor will be the second woman on the nine-judge panel, alongside cancer-stricken Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The Supreme Court is one of the three branches of US government, as the ultimate court of appeals and the final arbiter of the US constitution.

Justices have lifetime tenure, though some retire through illness or for family reasons.

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