Accessibility links

Obama Court Pick Faces Contentious Confirmation Battle


President Barack Obama hopes to make history with his first appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. If confirmed by the Senate, federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor would become the first Hispanic on the high court and would join Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second woman on the current court.

Supporters say President Obama made good on a promise to nominate a Supreme Court justice who not only has a good understanding of the law, but who will bring valuable real life experience to the court as well.

"It is experience that can give a person a common touch and a sense of compassion, and understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live," said the president. "And that is why it is a necessary ingredient in the kind of justice we need on the Supreme Court."

Judge Sotomayor is 54-years-old and grew up in a public housing project in the South Bronx, one of the poorest sections of New York City. Sotomayor's parents came from Puerto Rico and her father died when she was nine. It is all part of what President Obama called an inspiring life's journey.

As a federal judge, Sotomayor has never forgotten her roots. "I firmly believe in the rule of law as the foundation for all of our basic rights," she said. "I strive never to forget the real world consequences of my decisions on individuals, businesses and government."

Despite her humble beginnings, Sotomayor has an impressive legal resume, graduating first from Princeton and later Yale University Law School. She was first appointed as a federal judge in 1992 and is one of the most experienced jurists nominated to the Supreme Court in decades.

Liberal and Hispanic activist groups welcomed her nomination.

Brent Wilkes is with one the country's oldest Hispanic rights organizations, the League of United Latin American Citizens.

"She has been an outstanding jurist, well-liked by many, tough, but fair-minded," he said. "She is going to help this court understand some of the people coming before the court and what their experiences have been."

If confirmed, Sotomayor would become the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court and a source of pride for Hispanic-Americans.

Ramona Romero is president of the Hispanic National Bar Association. "By the year 2050, the expectation is that Hispanics will represent about 30 percent of the U.S. population, and that is the context for why the decisions of a court that impacts the lives of all Americans should be informed by the Hispanic experience," he said.

Sotomayor must now prepare for confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Supreme Court confirmations can be become politically charged, and already some conservative groups are lining up against the president's nominee.

Wendy Long is with the Judicial Confirmation Network. "They still want liberal activists who decide cases based on feelings and personal political agendas, and not on the text and history and principle of the Constitution and our laws," said Long.

But it remains to be seen how far Republicans will go to block Judge Sotomayor's appointment. Democrats control nearly 60 of the 100 Senate seats, making it difficult for Republicans to pull together enough votes to stop her through parliamentary delaying tactics.

But Republicans like Senator John Kyl of Arizona are promising a thorough review during the confirmation hearings.

"We will distinguish between a liberal judge on one side and one who does not decide cases on the merits, but rather on the basis of preconceived ideas," he said.

Democrats remain confident about Sotomayor's chances of being confirmed by the Senate. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York spoke to MSNBC television.

"I think Republicans will oppose her at their peril," he said. "It is very hard for a senator of either party to vote against her."

If confirmed, Judge Sotomayor would become the second woman on the current court, joining Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Sotomayor's confirmation is not expected to alter the political dynamic on the court, where a conservative faction generally holds sway over a liberal-leaning minority, often by votes of five to four.

Sotomayor is expected to generally follow a more liberal line on the court, somewhat in the mold of the man she would replace, retiring Justice David Souter.

XS
SM
MD
LG