Senate confirmation hearings begin Monday, July 13 for Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Barack Obama's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. If confirmed by the Senate, Sotomayor would become the first Hispanic justice on the nine-member high court and only the second woman on the current court, joining Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
To her supporters, Sonia Sotomayor embodies the American dream.
She is a woman who rose from humble roots in a poor neighborhood of New York City to become a federal judge. Now she is nominated to the highest court in the land.
"I strive never to forget the real-world consequences of my decisions on individuals, businesses, and government," she said.
President Obama said Sotomayor's extensive legal experience combined with a common touch and a sense of compassion make her an ideal nominee for the court.
"And when Sonia Sotomayor ascends those marble steps to assume her seat on the highest court of the land, America will have taken another important step towards realizing the ideal that is etched above its entrance: Equal justice under the law," he said.
Sotomayor now faces confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee where Republicans have promised tough, but fair questioning.
Sotomayor can expect questions about her legal and political views as well as her background.
The hearings loom as a major political test for President Obama, says longtime Republican adviser Tom Korologos.
"So the stakes are very high. Presidents must win those issues. If they do not, it resonates down through their entire term on other issues as they come forward," he said.
Supreme Court nominations have sparked political battles in the past, most notably in the 1987 confirmation hearings involving Robert Bork and the 1991 hearings involving Clarence Thomas.
Bork was rejected by the Senate. Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court, but only after acrimonious hearings in which he fended off allegations of sexual harassment.
Liberal and conservative activist groups are preparing to spar over the Sotomayor nomination.
Doug Kendall is president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center in Washington.
We do not officially endorse candidates ... before their confirmation hearings are over, but what we have seen so far we like. She is a good solid judge who looks carefully at the law and rules based on the law, and that is, I think, what a judge should be," he said.
Conservatives are critical of Judge Sotomayor's comments years ago that a wise Latina woman would make better legal decisions than a white male who has not lived her life.
Tom Fitton is president of Judicial Watch.
"She is the wrong person for the bench. She is too political and she has a chip on her shoulder when it comes to race, and there have got to be better nominees out there," he said.
Fitton said his group is rallying conservatives to oppose her nomination in the Senate.
"Well, we have a 25,000-plus email list, we have a 130,000-plus mailing list, so we have a pretty big megaphone and we have been telling our members to contact their senators and let their views be known about Judge Sotomayor," he added.
Sotomayor should be careful in responding to Republican attacks during the hearings, says Tom Korologos.
"Reports are surfacing that during her judgeship on the second circuit [court of appeals] she had a temper and it flared. Well, if it flares in the hearing she has got a problem," he said.
But Republicans must also use restraint when they question Sotomayor, he says, and consider the possible impact on congressional elections next year and the presidential race in 2012.
"Thirty-seven, 38 percent of the vote is going to be Hispanic, and they are proud people over what this appointment has done to their society. This is a big thing for them, so you vote against her at your peril," he said.
With Democrats controlling 60 of the 100 seats in the Senate, most experts believe Sotomayor will be confirmed in time for the Supreme Court's next term in October.