Washington Sketch: Sonia Sotomayor in the Bullpen

By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor may or may not be confirmed as the next Supreme Court justice, but she's definitely in the ballpark.

"Born in the South Bronx, she was raised in a housing project not far from Yankee Stadium, making her a lifelong Yankees fan," President Obama said yesterday in announcing his nominee to the high court. "I hope this will not disqualify her in the eyes of the New Englanders in the Senate."

Over Obama's left shoulder, the nominee grinned. Over his right shoulder, Vice President Biden shrugged, perhaps thinking about Red Sox fan Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But this was only part of Obama's, er, pitch.

"During her tenure on the district court, she presided over roughly 450 cases," the president said. "One case in particular involved a matter of enormous concern to many Americans, including me: the baseball strike of 1994 and '95."

The guests in the East Room laughed. "In a decision that reportedly took her just 15 minutes to announce -- a swiftness much appreciated by baseball fans everywhere" -- (more audience laughter) "she issued an injunction that helped end the strike. Some say that Judge Sotomayor saved baseball."

It was an unusual way to introduce the woman who would succeed Justice David Souter, but Sotomayor's nomination is itself a bit of a curveball.

Some thought Obama would nominate Judge Diane Wood or Solicitor General Elena Kagan -- big brains who could serve as a counterweight to the court's conservative philosophers. Others expected a well-known politician such as Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

In selecting Sotomayor, Obama opted for biography over brain. As a legal mind, Sotomayor is described in portraits as competent, but no Louis Brandeis. Nor is Sotomayor, often described as an abrasive jurist, likely to be the next Earl Warren. But her bio is quite a hit. In Spanish, her surname can be translated as "big thicket" -- and that's just where Republicans could find themselves if they oppose this up-from-poverty Latina.

Obama gave the play-by-play:

First base: "Sonia's parents came to New York from Puerto Rico during Second World War," he said. Nominee, president and audience applauded the judge's mother, seated in the first row.

Second base: "Sonia's father was a factory worker with a third-grade education who didn't speak English," the president went on. ". . . When Sonia was 9, her father passed away."

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