Sotomayor opponents in weak field position so far
Obama's high-court pick is no 'stealth candidate.' She has made some 450 judicial decisions. What's more, she has not been shy about expressing her opinions publicly.
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The Senate hearings will give Sotomayor an opportunity to respond more fully to critics and explain precisely what she meant.
In announcing Sotomayor's nomination at a White House ceremony on Tuesday, President Obama discussed his requirements for a Supreme Court selection. In addition to a rigorous intellect and mastery of the law, his nominee must have a respect for judicial restraint, he said. Supreme Court justices must have "an understanding that a judge's job is to interpret, not make law – to approach decisions without any particular ideology or agenda – but rather a commitment to impartial justice, a respect for precedent, and a determination to fully apply the law to the facts at hand," Mr. Obama said.
The president also said he was looking for something additional in his nominee: life experience "that can give a person a common touch and a sense of compassion, an understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live."
Obama said such life experience is "a necessary ingredient in the kind of justice we need on the Supreme Court."
Sotomayor has such experience, he said. She's worked as a big-city prosecutor and corporate litigator, as a federal trial judge for six years, and as an appeals-court judge for 10 years.
As a prosecutor in New York City, Sotomayor "learned what crime can do to a family and a community, and what it takes to fight it," Obama said. "It's a career that has given her not only a sweeping overview of the American judicial system, but a practical understanding of how the law works in the everyday lives of the American people."
Her other major qualification, the president said, is her compelling life story. Her father died when she was 9. She and her brother were raised by her mother in a public housing project in the Bronx, not far from Yankee Stadium. She attended Catholic school and then Princeton and Yale Law School.
"Along the way, she's faced down barriers, overcome the odds, lived out the American dream that brought her parents here [from Puerto Rico] so long ago," Obama said, alluding to a personal history with clear parallels to his own. "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."
He added, "What Sonia will bring to the court 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 comment dovetails with a second area that Sotomayor will be expected to address in her confirmation hearings. The judge has been criticized for comments she made in a 2002 speech at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. She was speaking about the importance of judicial diversity.