By Ben Feller
Washington (AP) -- President Barack Obama named federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor as the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice on Tuesday, praising her as "an inspiring woman" with both the intellect and compassion to interpret the Constitution wisely.
Obama said Sotomayor has more experience as a judge than any current member of the high court had when nominated, adding she has earned the "respect of colleagues on the bench," the admiration of lawyers who appear in her court and "the adoration of her clerks."
"My heart today is bursting with gratitude," Sotomayor said from the White House podium moments after being introduced by Obama.
If confirmed by the Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second woman on the current court, the third in history. She would succeed retiring Justice David Souter.
She would be unlikely to alter the ideological balance of the court, since Souter generally sides with the liberals on key 5-4 rulings. But at 54, she is a generation younger that Souter, and liberal outside groups hope she will provide a counterpoint to some of the sharply worded conservative rulings.
Obama and Sotomayor both noted the historic nature of the appointment. The president said a Hispanic on the court would mark another step toward the goal of "equal justice under law."
Obama and Sotomayor stood with Vice President Joe Biden. It was a striking picture of diversity: a black president, a white vice president and a Hispanic nominee to the nation's highest court.
Sotomayor said she grew up in poor surroundings and never dreamed she would one day be nominated for the highest court.
Obama has said he hopes she can take her place before the justices begin their new term in October.
Democrats hold a large majority in the Senate, and barring the unexpected, Sotomayor's confirmation should be assured.
The Senate Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, issued a statement that said: "Senate Republicans will treat Judge Sotomayor fairly. But we will thoroughly examine her record to ensure she understands that the role of a jurist in our democracy is to apply the law evenhandedly, despite their own feelings or personal or political preferences."
In his remarks, Obama made no mention of his earlier statement that he wanted a justice with empathy, although his remark that compassion was needed came close.
Sotomayor's nomination opens a new phase in the drive to replace Souter, as liberal and conservative groups alike scour the record she has compiled in 17 years on the federal bench.
In one of Sotomayor's most notable decisions, as an appellate judge she sided last year with the city of New Haven, Conn., in a discrimination case brought by white firefighters. The city threw out results of a promotion exam because too few minorities scored high enough. Coincidentally, that case is now before the Supreme Court.
That ruling has already drawn criticism from conservatives, and is likely to play a role in her confirmation hearing.
In one of her most memorable rulings as federal district judge, in 1995, Sotomayor ruled with Major League Baseball players over owners in a labor strike that had led to the cancellation of the World Series.
Obama referred to that in his remarks, then joked he hoped her support for the New Englanders to oppose her in the Senate.
Sonia Sotomayor (pronounced /?so?nj?? so?to?m?j?r/) (born June 25, 1954) is a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. On May 26, 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Judge Sotomayor for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice David Souter.
Sotomayor is of Puerto Rican descent, and was born in The Bronx. Her father died when she was nine, and she was raised by her mother. Sotomayor graduated with an A.B., summa cum laude, from Princeton in 1976, and received her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979, where she was an editor at the Yale Law Journal. She worked as an Assistant District Attorney in New York for a time before entering private practice in 1984. Sotomayor was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by President George H. W. Bush in 1991 and confirmed in 1992....
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