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What Obama was doing when he picked Sotomayor

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WASHINGTON -- As the sun was setting on Memorial Day, President Obama was in his White House study, pondering his first Supreme Court pick. His four finalists were all females.


About 8 p.m. Obama decided to nominate Sonia Sotomayor, a federal appellate judge from a Puerto Rican family, born in New York and raised in a South Bronx housing project by her widowed mother.

A little more than 14 hours later, Sotomayor was in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, nominated to replace retiring Justice David Souter.

Never in her "wildest childhood imaginings," Sotomayor said, did she ever dream "that I would live this moment."

Obama was looking for someone with empathy and a ''real-life'' storyline to relate how judicial decisions impact the lives of Americans.

He got both with his historic pick of Sotomayor.

That's right down to her suffering from diabetes, being inspired as a youth by Nancy Drew detective stories and, in one of her judicial decisions, issuing an injunction ending a baseball strike.

If confirmed, Sotomayor, 54, will be only the third female justice in the history of the United States.

It was quite a picture. The first African-American president nominating the first hispanic to the high court. (Fyi... Justice Benjamin Cardozo had hispanic roots.)

There are similarities in the Sotomayor and Obama storyline.

''Along the way she's faced down barriers, overcome the odds, lived out the American Dream that brought her parents here so long ago. And even as she has accomplished so much in her life, she has never forgotten where she began, never lost touch with the community that supported her,'' Obama said in introducing Sotomayor -- little known outside of New York.

''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,'' the president said.

Though Sotomayor has twice been confirmed by the Senate, she seemed overwhelmed by the gravity of her selection, and when it was her turn to speak, she said she was a little nervous.

Sotomayor said her personal and professional background "have helped me appreciate the variety of perspectives that present themselves in every case that I hear. It has helped me to understand, respect, and respond to the concerns and arguments of all litigants who appear before me, as well as to the views of my colleagues on the bench. I strive never to forget the real-world consequences of my decisions on individuals, businesses, and government."

Sotomayor would join Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second on the nine-member court. The first female was Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

While the Democrats will likely have 60 votes to approve Sotomayor (if Al Franken is seated), but that does not mean there will not be a confirmation battle.

Opponents to Sotomayor are already mobilizing on the basis that she would be a liberal judicial activist. Obama's vetting team was aware of a 2005 videotape of comments Sotomayor made at Duke University about how judges on the Court of Appeals are ''making policy." That tape has already created a confirmation headache.

Obama, in making the announcement, seemed to anticipate where Sotomayor will be attacked. Obama said a criterion he set for his selection was a nominee who had ''an understanding that a judge's job is to interpret, not make, law."

The White House and allied groups are gearing up for a campaign to ensure her confirmation. A "talking point memo" sent around by the White House to allies suggests stressing that Sotomayor brings more experience to the court "than any justice in 100 years." You'll be hearing that line a lot.

1 Comment

what was he doing when he picked sotomayer? he was talking to bo about afghanistan, same sex marriage, and dogs in the military.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on May 27, 2009 5:32 AM.

Obama taps vast campaign e-mail list to bolster Sotomayor court pick was the previous entry in this blog.

Sotomayor court pick: "Finally we're not the dancers in 'West Side Story,'' Gutierrez says is the next entry in this blog.

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