Obama To Name Supreme Court Nominee

President Obama is expected to nominate federal appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. She would be the first Hispanic justice. If confirmed by the Senate, Sotomayor would succeed retiring Justice David Souter.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, host:

And I'm David Greene.

In just a few minutes, President Obama will announce his first nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. The choice is already known. It's federal appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

INSKEEP: And we're going to hear now, as we wait for the president's announcement, from a person who served with Judge Sotomayor on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal appeals court. Judge Guido Calabresi is on the line. Welcome to the program, sir.

Judge GUIDO CALABRESI (U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit): Thank you.

INSKEEP: Some people will be wondering the very simple question - what kind of a judge is she?

Judge CALABRESI: She's a wonderful judge. But I want to go back before that, because I taught her in her first year in law school. She was in my torts class and I went back and found my notes from that, from her exam, graded anonymously, and it was a terrific exam.

INSKEEP: She got an A?

Judge CALABRESI: Well, the law school does not give grades in first term. But I marked it as one of the top exams in a very tough class. So it was nice. She was a Princeton (unintelligible) and was terrific then and has been terrific ever since.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask, because years later you ended up on the same Court of Appeals with her. What did you think she had learned in the intervening years?

Judge CALABRESI: She learned a lot about life in the law. She is a very fact, case-driven person. She does not decide cases on the basis of high or fancy theory - though she's smart enough to do any of that - but she just decides a case before her on the basis of what makes sense in that case.

INSKEEP: Okay. Let me ask about that, because I think that some people, particularly on the left or the right, are going to listen closely to those words and they're going to be asking, does that mean that she decides a case on the situation more than, say, what the Constitution says?

Judge CALABRESI: Oh, no. Oh, no. She is the law is what sets the parameter. She decides the case on the law, but she looks to what is actually going on in the individual case. That's often true of people who are district judges before going on a court of appeals. And that's something that's been missing on the Supreme Court, people who actually saw real cases with real people in terms of the law.

INSKEEP: Judge

Judge CALABRESI: The law always guides us.

INSKEEP: Judge Calabresi, as we wait for the president's announcement, I want to ask about one other thing, and that is that any Supreme Court justice, of course, is one of nine, and any ruling or majority that's put together is often a negotiation. And so your personality, your style, can be significant. And I'm reading this article by Jeffrey Rosen in the New Republic who quotes a couple of anonymously - a couple of courts who had served around Judge Sotomayor. One was not complimentary and said she's kind of a bully, not that bright. Another seemed to think

Judge CALABRESI: Let me speak to that directly.

INSKEEP: Okay.

Judge CALABRESI: First, she has changed my mind any number of times. I hope I have changed her mind, because she is strong and good. When - some people, when she first came on, asked - said some things like that, I kept track. Her way of dealing with other people is exactly the same as male judges do. The fact that she is a woman and does that meant that some people thought, oh, women shouldn't act that way. She is a totally fair, good negotiator, good talker with other people, but she's no different from anybody else.

INSKEEP: And to be fair to Jeffrey Rosen's article, we'll say that another former clerk or person who clerked around her said that she had similar qualities but was very tough and self-confident.

Judge Calabresi, thanks very much.

Judge CALABRESI: Thank you. Good luck.

INSKEEP: Judge Guido Calabresi

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Obama Chooses Sotomayor For Supreme Court

Sonia Sotomayor

Age: 54; Born June 25, 1954, in New York, N.Y.

  

Experience: Nominated by President Clinton in 1997 as U.S. Court of Appeals judge for the 2nd Circuit, 1998-present; U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of New York, 1992-98; private practice, New York City, 1984-92; assistant district attorney, Manhattan, 1979-84

  

Education: B.A., Princeton University, 1976; J.D., Yale Law School, 1979.

  

Quote (from 1997 nomination hearing): "I don't believe we should bend the Constitution under any circumstance. It says what it says. We should do honor to it."

'Where Policy Is Made'

Critics point to this comment by Judge Sonia Sotomayor at a 2005 forum at Duke University School of Law, where she talked about why public interest groups like to hire lawyers who have been appeals court clerks:

President Obama on Tuesday nominated U.S. Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor to serve on the Supreme Court, tapping the daughter of Puerto Rican parents to succeed retiring Justice David Souter and become the first Hispanic to serve on the high court.

Calling Sotomayor "an inspiring woman," Obama said that he looked not only at intellect and the ability to be impartial, but at life experience and the ability to relate to ordinary Americans in choosing Sotomayor as his nominee.

At a White House news conference, Sotomayor thanked the president for "the most humbling honor" of her life. "My heart today is bursting with gratitude," she said.

If confirmed by the Senate, the 54-year-old judge will bring nearly 17 years of experience on the federal bench and a history of bipartisan appeal to the high court. She was first appointed to federal bench in the Southern District of New York in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush and was named to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton in 1998.

Hispanic Groups Laud Choice

Obama said Sotomayor has more experience as a judge than any of the justices had when they were nominated for their positions on the high court.

Hispanic groups lauded the president's choice. "The Supreme Court should reflect the diverse population of the United States to ensure that our nation's highest court understands the unique circumstances of all Americans," said Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

If confirmed, Sotomayor will join Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second woman on the current court and the third in history. Sotomayor, like the retiring Souter, is expected to vote with the court liberals.

Republicans are not expected to put up much of a fight against the nomination. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said Republicans would have a difficult time taking on a judge that was first appointed to the federal bench by Republican.

"She's been pretty carefully vetted and analyzed already, so I would find it unusual if they were to decide to try to take her on," Kane said.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said the upcoming court vacancy provides an opportunity to discuss the role the Supreme Court has in the daily lives of Americans.

"Republicans look forward to learning more about federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor's thoughts on the importance of the Supreme Court's fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law," Steele was quoted saying on the RNC Web site.

Republicans Want Time For Debate

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said his colleagues will treat Sotomayor fairly but want time to debate her qualifications.

"We will thoroughly examine her record to ensure she understands that the role of a jurist in our democracy is to apply the law even-handedly, despite their own feelings or personal or political preferences," McConnell said in a statement posted on his Web site.

Sotomayor predicted senators would come to see her as an ordinary person who has had some extraordinary opportunities.

"I hope that as the Senate and American people learn more about me, they will see that I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences," Sotomayor said.

During the East Room announcement, the president cited Sotomayor's educational accomplishments at Princeton University — where she graduated summa cum laude in 1976 — and Yale University Law School. He also said her stint trying criminal cases as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan after her graduation from Yale Law School, corporate law experience and time as a trial judge gave her an edge because she has seen the judicial system from many perspectives.

One of her most prominent rulings came in 1995, when she sided with Major League Baseball players in a labor strike that had led to the cancellation of that season's World Series.

"Over a distinguished career that spans three decades, Judge Sotomayor has worked at almost every level of our judicial system, providing her with a depth of experience and a breadth of perspective that will be invaluable as a Supreme Court justice," Obama said.

The president also said he was moved by her inspirational personal story.

Sotomayor was raised in a housing project in New York's South Bronx by Puerto Rican parents who came to the United States during World War II. Her father was a factory worker who had a third-grade education and spoke no English. He died when she was 9, a year after she was diagnosed with Type 1, or juvenile, diabetes.

Sotomayor said she was strongly influenced by her mother, who served in the Women's Army Corps and often worked two jobs to support Sotomayor and her brother, Juan.

"I have often said that I am all I am because of her, and I am only half the woman she is," Sotomayor said, recognizing her mother and other family members seated in the audience as the president announced her nomination.

An Upward Career Path

Obama said the couple believed in the American dream and the power of education. Sotomayor attended Catholic school and went on to attend Princeton and Yale.

From 1984 until her appointment to the bench, Sotomayor practiced international business law at the New York-based firm of Pavia & Harcourt LLP. There, she focused on intellectual property issues and litigation and arbitration of commercial and commodity export trading cases, according to her appeals court biography.

Later, Sotomayor became a member of the 2nd Circuit Task Force on Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts, which was established in 1993 to examine the effect of bias on court employees and litigants. She has also remained active in legal education, serving as an adjunct professor at New York University School of Law from 1998-2007 and as a lecturer-in-law at Columbia Law School since 1999.

She has also served on the Board of Directors of the State of New York Mortgage Agency, the New York City Campaign Finance Board, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Maternity Center Association.

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