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Morning Bulletin: Monday, May 26, 2009

The anticipation as to who President Obama will choose to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court ends at 10:15 a.m. ET as he makes a "special announcement."

4993195A senior White House official confirms to CBS News that he will name federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor, at left, as the first Hispanic justice to serve on the Supreme Court.

The White House is touting the fact that she was originally appointed to the U.S. District Court by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 and that she has been confirmed by the Senate twice before (in 1991 and 1998). They're also touting the fact that she has more judicial experience than any of the current justices at the time they were nominated for the Supreme Court.

The president has said repeated that he was looking for a justice who combined empathy and smarts - and Sotomayor fits the bill.

"Sotomayor is a self-described 'Newyorkrican' who grew up in a Bronx housing project after her parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico," writes the Associated Press' Ben Feller.

"She has dealt with diabetes since age 8 and lost her father at age 9, growing up under the care of her mother in humble surroundings. As a girl, inspired by the Perry Mason television show, she knew she wanted to be a judge. A graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School, a former prosecutor and private attorney, Sotomayor became a federal judge for the Southern District of New York in 1992. As a judge, she has a bipartisan pedigree. She was first appointed by a Republican, President George H.W. Bush, then named an appeals judge by President Bill Clinton in 1997.

"At her Senate confirmation hearing more than a decade ago, she said, 'I don't believe we should bend the Constitution under any circumstance. It says what it says. We should do honor to it.' In one of her most memorable rulings as federal district judge, Sotomayor essentially salvaged baseball in 1995, ruling with players over owners in a labor strike that had led to the cancellation of the World Series. As an appellate judge, she sided with the city of New Haven, Conn., in a discrimination case brought by white firefighters after the city threw out results of a promotion exam because two few minorities scored high enough. Ironically, that case is now before the Supreme Court."

Conservatives, are already using the New Haven case in their arguments against Sotomayor. "Sonia Sotomayor, who didn't give a fair shake in court to firefighters deprived promotion on account of race. ... On Sotomayor's court, the content of your character is not as important as the color of your skin," says a web video produced by the Judicial Confirmation Network.

"[C]onventional wisdom says his nominee will have little chance to change the court because all the contenders appear to share Justice Souter's approach on social issues, like abortion rights," writes the New York Times' Charlie Savage.

"But the effect on presidential power could be pivotal. Important rulings on executive authority — striking down military commissions and upholding habeas corpus rights for Guantánamo detainees — have been decided by a five-vote majority, including Justice Souter, on the nine-member court."

The Los Angeles Times' David G. Savage and Thomas Oliphant report, "No judging how a justice will turn out -- The upbringing and life experiences of Supreme Court picks are not always reliable predictors of where they stand legally."

(AP / CBS)
NORTH KOREA: With a Supreme Court pick imminent and the 2010 elections on today's agenda, President Obama has his plate full enough without having to deal with an escalating foreign policy crisis. But a day after its nuclear test, North Korea's launch of two missiles last night adds to the long list of issues the president must tackle.

"President Obama came into office saying he wanted to demonstrate that engagement with hostile nations is more effective than antagonism, but North Korea's nuclear test now leaves the young administration with critical choices about its response," writes the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler.

"Does it ramp up the pressure with new and tougher sanctions? Does it not overreact and essentially stand pat? Or will it, like the Bush administration after North Korea's first test in 2006, shift course and redouble efforts at engagement and diplomacy? A key variable is an assessment of what North Korea is hoping to gain. Is it ratcheting up the pressure to win new concessions from the United States and nations in the region? Or should the United States take its rhetoric at face value -- that it is aiming to become a full-fledged nuclear power, no matter what the cost in diplomatic isolation?

"Top officials in the Obama administration have only begun to grapple with those questions and have not reached any conclusions beyond seeking condemnation by the U.N. Security Council with 'consequences,' officials said yesterday. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hit the phones urging a 'strong, unified' approach from other nations while President Obama said the North was 'deepening its own isolation and inviting stronger international pressure.' He vowed to 'work with our friends and our allies to stand up to this behavior.' The answers are complicated by the fact that the notoriously unpredictable government in Pyongyang appears to be in flux, with leader Kim Jong Il ailing from a stroke and no clear successor in place."

Meantime, reports the New York Times' David E. Sanger, "Mr. Obama's aides acknowledged that the administration's options were limited. Much depends, they said, on the new president's ability to persuade Russia and China to go significantly beyond the strong condemnations that they issued Monday against North Korea, their former ally and a vestige of cold-war communism.

"'I think we were all impressed with the fact that the Russians and the Chinese denounced this so strongly,' Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama's chief of staff, said in a telephone call. Yet turning that into effective action will prove a challenge. Efforts by the Clinton administration to entice the North to halt its weapons program by providing it with oil and nuclear power plants, and by the Bush administration to push the country to collapse and then to try to seize its leaders' assets, all failed.

"So did Mr. Bush's second-term strategy reversal, when he alienated hard-liners in his administration by reaching a deal with the North to dismantle its main nuclear plant, a step the North began last year. In recent months, the North has renounced the accord and taken the first steps to restart operations and manufacture more plutonium for bomb fuel. Now Mr. Obama must decide how to mix what he called "stronger international pressure" with a new set of diplomatic overtures at a moment when, his aides are acutely aware, Iran and other nations are taking his measure, examining the confrontation with North Korea for hints of how he will handle complex confrontations to come."

(CBS)
OBAMA'S FUND-RAISING TRIP: Later this afternoon, the president heads to Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas to raise money for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's 2010 re-election bid. The star-studded event (Bette Midler, Sheryl Crow) comes at a time when Reid's really needs the help.

"It will be Obama's first visit to Nevada since he won the state's five electoral votes in November.
Both Reid and Las Vegas have reason to hope that some of that presidential glow rubs off on them," reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Molly Ball.

(AP)
"Reid, running for re-election next year, could be in trouble politically, with polls showing he is little loved by home-state voters. And Las Vegas, suffering from an economic slump that has sent the tourism economy plummeting, is nursing a bruised ego since Obama mentioned Vegas junkets as the type of corporate excess that federal dollars shouldn't be funding. ... A Las Vegas Review-Journal poll earlier this month found 38 percent of Nevada voters hold a favorable view of Reid, while 50 percent view him unfavorably. Just 35 percent said they would vote to re-elect Reid, while 17 percent said they would consider another candidate and 45 percent would definitely vote to replace him."

"Just four months in office, President Barack Obama and his White House are taking steps to shore up Democratic Congressional majorities in next year's midterm elections," adds the Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman.

"This month, the president tried -- but failed -- to recruit a high-profile candidate for a Senate contest in North Carolina. He stepped in to head off a primary battle for the New York Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. He promised to back Sen. Arlen Specter, the Republican-turned Democrat, if a Democratic challenger emerged. And this week he will go to Las Vegas and Los Angeles to raise cash for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democratic National Committee.

"Since Ronald Reagan, every president has had a political office and has intervened in midterm elections. Obama aides say that with such a full legislative plate, politics is hardly a focus. 'We've got our hands full with a thousand other things,' senior White House adviser David Axelrod said Monday. But with a chief of staff like Rahm Emanuel and a political operator like Mr. Axelrod in the West Wing, Democrats expect the help. Mr. Emanuel comes from the political crucible of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and saw the devastation wrought by the 1994 Republican sweep on the last president he worked for, Bill Clinton. Mr. Axelrod has deep ties to the DCCC."

ALSO TODAY: Vice President Joe Biden is in Denver today for the next meeting of the Middle Class Tax Force.

Also, the San Francisco Chronicle's Meredith May reports, "John Calaway of San Francisco finds out today if the man he married last summer after a 25-year courtship will still be considered his husband in the eyes of California. Calaway is one of many - advocates and foes alike - who are waiting anxiously for the California Supreme Court to deliver its verdict at 10 a.m. today [Pacific Time] in the ongoing battle over same-sex marriage. Today's ruling decides whether voters had the right, when 52 percent of them approved Proposition 8 in November, to amend the state Constitution to solidify the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. If the justices uphold Prop. 8, they will also decide whether to dissolve the marriages of 18,000 same-sex couples who wed before the Nov. 4 election."

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.