Latinos Welcome Sotomayor Pick

Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the U-S Supreme Court represents a milestone for the nation's Latinos. Reaction to the prospect of having the first-ever Hispanic Supreme Court justice has been positive.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Sonia Sotomayor represents a milestone for Latinos as the first nominated to serve on the Supreme Court. She has identified herself as a Nuyorican, blending her Puerto Rican heritage with her upbringing in New York. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, Latinos of all background say they are happy with the president's choice.

CARRIE KAHN: Sotomayor's nomination was all the talk outside the St. Mary's Catholic school in Los Angeles, where Sally Clavel(ph) dropped off her daughter.

Ms. SALLY CLAVEL: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: She says it's such a privilege to know that President Obama is considering Latinos while making such an important decision. And she says he really is bringing about change.

(Soundbite of music)

KAHN: Clavel was grabbing a cup of coffee at the nearby Plaza Mexico. It's a place where Latinos gather to have a quick breakfast and talk about the day's news. Today, they had a lot to talk about.

Ms. MARIA ZARAGOSA(ph): (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: Maria Zaragosa says she feels proud that President Obama picked a Latina to one of the highest positions in the nation. And she says she hopes that people now will listen to Latinos more.

Ms. ZARAGOSA: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: Sotomayor has been quoted as saying that being a woman and Latino has helped guide her decision-making. While that may be controversial in the upcoming confirmation process, that wins her major points with Latinos in places like Los Angeles.

Hispanic organizations across the country have been praising her nomination -from the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund in New York, to the Coalition of Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. Civic rights groups say this is a historic day for Latinos in the country. Sitting at an outside cafe in the L.A. shopping center, Raul Evarro(ph), who is from Mexico, says even though Sotomayor is Puerto Rican, all Latinos are celebrating.

Mr. RAUL EVARRO: It doesn't really matter. We speak the same language, we think the same so - and it's going to help to everybody.

KAHN: Jaime Regalado, a political scientist and director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State L.A., says the symbolism of Sotomayor's nomination is significant.

Mr. JAIME REGALADO (Director, Pat Brown Institute): It would be hard to imagine that there's a more elevated position that he could've appointed a member of the Latino community to - in fact, there's none higher.

KAHN: Regalado says politically, the nomination may give Obama a little bit of breathing room before having to complete his campaign promise to Latinos that he would tackle the controversial fight for comprehensive immigration reform.

(Soundbite of music)

KAHN: Jose Galvet(ph) plays nightly at restaurants in the Plaza Mexico. He says he's a big Obama supporter, and is thrilled that there will be a Latina in the nation's highest judicial post. He starts playing an old Mexican ballad that he says honors women.

Mr. JOSE GALVET (Musician): (Singing in Spanish)

KAHN: He adds, especially those in high places.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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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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