Obama Announces Sotomayor as Supreme Court Pick

By Kevin Fayle on May 26, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

President Barack Obama announced today that he will nominate 2nd Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace retiring Justice David Souter on the United States Supreme Court.  If confirmed, she will become the first Latina, and the third woman overall, to serve on the Court.

Judge Sotomayor has been mentioned as the top possibility for the nomination ever since Justice Souter announced his retirement at the end of the Supreme Court's current term.  While some observers felt that Elena Kagan, the Solicitor General, might get the nod, or that the President might select a more obscure figure, Sotomayor's name has always been widely considered to be at the top of the list.
Sotomayor is of Puerto Rican descent, and she was raised in a Bronx housing project by her mother after her father died when she was 9.  She attended Princeton University, then Yale Law School, where she was the editor of the Yale Law Journal.  She worked as a prosecutor and in private practice before President George H.W. Bush nominated her to the federal district court in 1991 and President Bill Clinton elevated her to the 2nd Circuit in 1997.

President Obama has famously stated that he wanted to select a justice with "empathy," and he clearly feels that Sotomayor's background gives her this qualification.  This emphasis on empathy, however, might fuel a Republican challenge to the nomination.  Immediately after the President's announcement, two top Senate Republicans - Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R - KY) and Sen. John Cornyn (R - TX), a member of Senate Judiciary Committee - issued statements admonishing that Supreme Court justices must uphold the law regardless of their own "personal politics, feelings, and preferences," as Sen. Cornyn put it.

Sotomayor has ruled on many controversial issues - including a New Haven affirmative action case currently before the Supreme Court - all of which are likely fodder for confirmation debate.  She has also made statements which, combined with President Obama's desire for an empathetic justice, could lead Republicans to challenge her as a judicial activist.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R - AL), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee has already expressed his doubt that the nomination will clear the Judiciary Committee in time for a vote before the Senate's traditional August recess.  This shows that the Senate Republicans may be gearing up for a confirmation battle.

It's difficult to see how they could win, though.  The Democrats have a strong majority in the Judiciary Committee, and they are one vote short of a fillibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the full Senate.

Some commentators have asserted that Sotomayor is a divisive presence within the 2nd Circuit, that she posseses a difficult personality to work with, and that her opinions do not rise to the level of juristic excellence necessary for a Supreme Court justice - all issues that are likely to come up during the confirmation process.  Other writers have dismissed these claims as character assasination.

Personally, I hope that she is brash and unyielding.  The conservative wing of the Court has Scalia - why shouldn't the liberal wing have someone equally abrasive?

See Also:
The President Will Nominate Sonia Sotomayor (SCOTUSblog)
Obama names Sotomayor as Supreme Court nominee (CNN.com)
Obama Selects Sotomayor for Court (NYTimes.com)

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