Battle Lines Form Over High Court Pick

President Barack Obama announces federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor, right, as his nominee for the Supreme Court, Tuesday, May 26, 2009, in an East Room ceremony at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais ) AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

After making history by nominating the first Hispanic justice for the Supreme Court, President Obama is pressing the Senate to quickly confirm his choice of federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor for the country's most powerful tribunal.

Republicans face an uphill battle in defeating the New York-born daughter of Puerto Rican parents, but they are promising a thorough and perhaps lengthy hearing process that scrutinizes her record and judicial philosophy.

The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee said Wednesday he doesn't foresee a filibuster against Sonia Sotomayor, even though he thinks her legal philosophy should be closely examined.

"The nominee has serious problems," Sen. Jeff Sessions said in a nationally broadcast interview. "But I would think that we would all have a good hearing, take our time, and do it right. And then the senators cast their vote up or down based on whether or not they think this is the kind of judge that should be on the court."

"I don't sense a filibuster in the works," the Alabama Republican said. (Read more on the GOP reaction today.)

Democrats hold 59 votes in the Senate, more than enough to confirm Sotomayor but not quite enough to stop a vote-blocking filibuster if Republicans should attempt one. Still, seven Republican senators currently serving backed Sotomayor's 1998 nomination to the appeals court covering New York, Vermont and Connecticut, and she was first nominated to be a federal judge by Republican President George H.W. Bush.

Sessions was among several Republicans who opposed her when she came before the Senate as a nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1998. On Tuesday, he said: "We ought to look at her record fresh."

Sotomayor's nomination now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold a confirmation hearing at which senators can question the nominee.

Any Republican effort to block Sotomayor's confirmation could be risky for a party still reeling from last year's elections and struggling to gain back lost ground with Hispanics, the fastest-growing part of the population and one that is increasingly active politically.

"They oppose her at their peril," Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said of Republicans.

Sotomayor, 54, whose nomination was announced by Mr. Obama on Tuesday, would join Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second woman on the court and just the third in its history. She would replace liberal Justice David Souter, thereby maintaining the court's ideological divide. A number of important cases have been decided by 5-4 majorities, with conservative- and liberal-leaning justices split 4-4 and moderate Republican appointee Justice Anthony Kennedy providing the decisive vote.

The White House says it started the selection process by examining the records and writings of 40 prospective nominees but made direct contact with only nine of them. The officials portrayed Mr. Obama's outreach as unprecedented, saying he consulted with each and every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the selection process.

Sotomayor is for abortion rights, but there's little or nothing in her record on same-sex marriage, church-state separation or the death penalty, reports CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante.

Supreme Court justices receive lifetime appointments and can have a profound influence on Americans' daily life. Sotomayor would be a new voice on the cases that often reflect divisions in the broader society, including national security, abortion, gay rights and privacy.

As CBSNews.com's Declan McCullagh writes, pro-life groups have already tabbed Sotomayor a "hard left judicial activist" who would "impose her personal policy and beliefs onto others from the bench."

Sotomayor's personal story, academic and legal credentials earn her respect from all quarters, but conservatives see plenty to criticize in her rulings and past statements. They describe her as a judicial activist who would put her feelings above the Constitution.

The top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said: "We will thoroughly examine her record to ensure she understands that the role of a jurist in our democracy is to apply the law evenhandedly, despite their own feelings or personal or political preferences."

Sotomayor has said that personal experiences "affect the facts that judges choose to see."

"I simply do not know exactly what the difference will be in my judging," she said in a speech in 2001. "But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage."

Mr. Obama, eager to begin putting his imprint on the court, challenged the Senate to move swiftly and confirm Sotomayor before Congress' August break. The court begins its new term in October.

Mr. Obama, who made history as America's first black president, beamed Tuesday as he introduced Sotomayor. He described her as a judge who displays both an impressive mind and heart, and who takes on cases with "an understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live."

The White House and its allies, including Hispanic groups with broad reach into communities throughout the country, are readying a major push to persuade more GOP senators to back her confirmation.

A coalition of liberal groups calling itself the Center for Constitutional Rights launched a television ad Wednesday touting Sotomayor as principled, fair-minded and independent. The ad, which will air on broadcast and cable networks, overlays Obama's voice with pictures of Sotomayor, and is intended to frame public perceptions of the judge.

"It's important that they understand her fair-minded approach to the law, which is grounded both in her eminent legal qualifications and her life experiences," said Wade Henderson, a co-chair of the group. (Read more about the ad and watch it here.)

Hispanic leaders saw her nomination as significant.

"We want people to realize that this is kind of like voting for president," said Estuardo Rodriguez, a spokesman for Hispanics for a Fair Judiciary, which is leading a coalition of organizations that plans to push for the judge's speedy confirmation. "You can actually call your senator and say, 'I want this. I want you to vote for Sonia Sotomayor.'"

Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, a leading Hispanic advocacy group, called Sotomayor's nomination "a monumental day for Latinos. Finally, we see ourselves represented on the highest court in the land."

She said Mr. Obama's choice recognized "that excellence and diversity are not mutually exclusive."

Sotomayor has spoken about her pride in her ethnic background and has said that personal experiences "affect the facts that judges choose to see."

"I simply do not know exactly what the difference will be in my judging," she said in a speech in 2001. "But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage."



Sonia Sotomayor

Age: 54. Born June 25, 1954, New York City
Education: B.A., Princeton, 1976; J.D., Yale Law School, 1979
Career: U.S. Appeals Court Judge, Second Circuit, 1998 - present; U.S. District Court Judge, Southern District of New York, 1992 - 1998; Attorney, Pavia & Harcourt, 1984 - 1992; Prosecutor, New York County District Attorney's Office, 1979 - 1984
Highlights:
Issued injunction against major league baseball owners, March, 1995
Denied, as part of three-judge panel, New Haven firefighters' appeal, February, 2008

Read More About Her Biography
Photo Essay | Timeline


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