Obama Names Sotomayor to Supreme Court

Residents of the Bronx neighborhood where Sonia Sotomayor grew up reacted joyfully to President Obama's nomination of Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Video by Travis Fox/The Washington Post
By Shailagh Murray and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

President Obama nominated federal judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court yesterday, putting her in line to become the nation's first Hispanic justice and creating a difficult political equation for Republicans as they weigh how aggressively to fight her appointment.

An all-out assault on Sotomayor by Republicans could alienate both Latino and women voters, deepening the GOP's problems after consecutive electoral setbacks. But sidestepping a court battle could be deflating to the party's base and hurt efforts to rally conservatives going forward.

In introducing Sotomayor at the White House yesterday morning, Obama hailed the 54-year-old appeals court judge as an accomplished and "inspiring" individual with a compelling life story. She would replace Justice David H. Souter, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush but became a reliable member of the court's liberal wing.

Senate Republicans responded with restraint to the announcement yesterday, and their largely muted statements stood in sharp contrast to the fractious partisanship that has defined court battles in recent decades. Leading conservatives outside the Senate, however, did not hold back, targeting a pair of speeches in which Sotomayor said appellate courts are where "policy is made" and another in which she said a Latina would often "reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Critics also targeted her support for affirmative action, with Rush Limbaugh calling her a "reverse racist" in his syndicated radio program, citing a case in which she ruled against a group of white firefighters who claimed discrimination in hiring practices.

White House officials argued that the comments in the speeches were taken out of context, and they said that the firefighters case was an example of Sotomayor accepting established precedent, something they said conservatives should applaud. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, who are on the verge of controlling a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate, warned Republicans of the dangers of pushing too hard against Obama's first court pick.

Strong Words

"They oppose her at their peril," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said of his GOP colleagues and conservative activists who are leading the court fight. "I think this process is going to be more a test of the Republican Party than of Sonia Sotomayor."

Conservative interest groups have been warily preparing for the prospect of Sotomayor's nomination since word of Souter's retirement first circulated last month, viewing her as among the most liberal contenders for the appointment. But some Senate GOP officials privately conceded that, barring a major stumble, the judge will probably be confirmed with relative ease.

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that we need to tread very carefully," said John Weaver, a Republican political consultant who advised Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for years. "The only way we'll find ourselves in a political predicament is if we don't treat her with the same respect that other nominees received."

"If she answers questions in a crazy way, then that's one thing," said one senior Republican aide who participated in strategy discussions. "But the immediate reaction is not to just try and bring her down."

Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, did not comment on Sotomayor's qualifications for the nation's highest court yesterday but indicated that he was not inclined to rush the confirmation process.

"We must remember that a Supreme Court justice sits for a lifetime appointment, and the Senate hearing is the only opportunity for the American people to engage in the nomination process," Sessions said in a statement. "Adequate preparation will take time."

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