this is daniel chan's blog

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

original article: washington post
Staff writers William Branigin and Michael Fletcher contributed to this report.


President Obama this morning nominated U.S. Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor of New York to replace retiring Justice David Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court, hailing her as "an inspiring woman" with a moving personal story and broad professional experience who would bring new perspective to the court.

If confirmed, Sotomayor, 54, would be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and only the third woman ever to sit on the panel. She grew up in a Bronx housing project, went on to Princeton University and Yale Law School, and has stirred controversy by saying that judges' legal findings are informed by their own life experiences as well as their legal research.

Obama, too, has said jurists' life experiences are a key part of their legal makeup, and he cited Sotomayor's compelling personal story as one of the motivations for his choice. Aides said Obama met Sotomayor in person for the first time Thursday, and made his decision to nominate her last night.

"Over a distinguished career that spans three decades, Judge Sotomayor has worked at almost every level of our judicial system, providing her with a depth of experience and a breadth of perspective that will be invaluable as a Supreme Court justice," Obama said in the East Room announcement, before an enthusiastic crowd that included Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, NAACP officials, Sotomayor's mother and other relatives and some of her former law clerks.

Describing the sacrifices made by Sotomayor's parents, who came from Puerto Rico to New York to raise their family and focused all their efforts on their children's education, Obama said the family exemplified the American dream. "What Sonia will bring to the court, then, 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," he said.

Obama said of his nominee, "Walking in the door, she would bring more experience on the bench and more varied experience on the bench than anyone currently serving on the United States Supreme Court had when they were appointed."

Obama noted that Sotomayor was first appointed to the federal bench by a Republican president -- George H.W. Bush -- and promoted by a Democrat, Bill Clinton. He urged the Senate to confirm her swiftly.

Accepting the nomination after Obama introduced her, Sotomayor said she chose to become a lawyer and ultimately a judge "because I find endless challenge in the complexities of the law."

She added: "I firmly believe in the rule of law as the foundation for all of our basic rights." But she also vowed to "never forget the real-world consequences of my decisions on individuals, businesses and government."

Obama made the announcement before leaving Washington for a two-day trip to California and Las Vegas that will focus mostly on fundraising events. He set a deadline of confirming Sotomayor by the start of the Senate's five-week recess, slated to begin Aug. 7.

This morning, Obama called Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and the top Republican on the committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

Sotomayor, who has been considered a likely Supreme Court pick in the event of an opening while a Democrat occupied the White House, called the nomination "the most humbling honor of my life." Since Souter announced his retirement May 1, analysts had widely predicted that she would be Obama's choice.

Picking Sotomayor offers the president an opportunity to potentially shape the court in a way that his liberal constituency will like. And aides have said the president has been keenly aware of wanting to make a historic pick by naming the first Hispanic justice.

Already, activists on the left are cheering the pick. "We already know that she is a brilliant lawyer who is committed to ruling based on the Constitution and the law, not on her own personal political views," said Doug Kendall, president of the liberal Constitution Accountability Center, in an e-mailed statement this morning.

The National Organization of Women issued a statement saying that she "brings a lifelong commitment to equality, justice and opportunity, as well as the respect of her peers, unassailable integrity, and a keen intellect informed by experience."

Latino legal activists also applauded Sotomayor's appointment. "This is the most important Hispanic appointment that has been made in this country's history," said Cesar Perales, executive director of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a New York-based civil rights group, where Sotomayor once served as a board member. "It is a recognition that we are coming of age, that we can be one of nine wise people on the Supreme Court, making decisions that affect everyone in this country."

However, Sotomayor is strongly opposed by conservative groups, who have signaled their intention to use her nomination as a rallying cry against liberal causes. Republican lawmakers said this weekend they would try to slow down her confirmation, which despite the strong Democratic majority in the Senate could lead to an all-consuming fight this summer that could divert attention from the rest of Obama's political and economic agenda.

"Judge Sotomayor is a liberal judicial activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important than the law as written," said Wendy E. Long, counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network, in a statement e-mailed to reporters this morning. "She thinks that judges should dictate policy, and that one's sex, race, and ethnicity ought to affect the decisions one renders from the bench."

On his radio program this morning, conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh called Sotomayor a racist and urged Republicans to go all-out to oppose her confirmation. He also blasted Sotomayor as a "horrible pick" and a "hack" but said he doubted that her nomination can be stopped.

Citing a 2002 speech at the University of California, Berkeley, in which Sotomayor said it was appropriate for judges to consider their "experiences as women and people of color" in reaching decisions, Limbaugh said: "So here you have a racist. You might want to soften that and you might want to say a reverse racist." He added, "Obama is the greatest living example of a reverse racist, and now he's appointed one."

Limbaugh went on to say of the nominee, "She's not the brain that they're portraying her to be. She's not a constitutional jurist. She is an affirmative action case extraordinaire, and she has put down white men in favor of Latina women." He said Republicans should "take this to the mat."

Limbaugh also described the Hispanic woman jurist as a "two-run homer" for Obama and a "two-prong minority." But he predicted that "a majority of Republicans are going to be scared to death to oppose her or even say anything about her because the Dems are going to use race left and right."

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination last year, said Obama's choice exposes as "mere rhetoric" his campaign pledges to be centrist and bipartisan. "Sotomayor comes from the far left and will likely leave us with something akin to the 'Extreme Court' that could mark a major shift," he said in a statement.

Other opponents point out that even the Obama administration has differed with one of Sotomayor's more controversial decisions, which invalidated results of a firefighter promotion exam in New Haven, Conn.

White House advisers believe there is little likelihood that Republicans can stop her confirmation unless some unknown damaging information about her surfaces, and aides said they expect Republicans not to delay the nomination unfairly. With the recent switch of Sen. Arlen Specter to the Democratic Party, the GOP cannot effectively mount a filibuster without help from Democrats, which they are unlikely to get.

But Obama's administration is not taking the confirmation for granted. They are assembling a team of lawyers to help shepherd her through the nomination process, which will include a series of private meetings with senators in the coming days and mock hearings behind closed doors to prepare her for what could be intense grilling.

The effort will be led inside the White House by Cynthia Hogan, the chief counsel to Vice President Biden. Officials described her as a veteran of the process and said Biden -- as a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- and his chief of staff, Ron Klain, will also play key roles.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who represents Sotomayor's home state, will play a key role in introducing her to his colleagues, officials said.

In addition, the administration has also moved Stephanie Cutter, a longtime Democratic operative, from the Treasury Department to help Sotomayor through the process.

Sotomayor was part of a three-judge panel that upheld New Haven's decision to scuttle a promotions test for firefighters after the results showed no African Americans qualified for advancement. The white firefighters who would have been promoted said the decision violated federal law and their constitutional rights.

The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, and a ruling is expected before the end of this term. The case went to the high court after an unusual dissent by conservative fellow judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, who said Sotomayor and two others tried to bury important federal law and constitutional questions raised by the firefighters' suit in their ruling.

The Supreme Court seemed unlikely to let the decision stand when it heard arguments in the case last month. The Obama administration took the position that New Haven officials could throw out the results if they were genuinely concerned that the tests were deficient. But it said the lower courts did not do enough to make sure the city was not using that concern as a pretext for scuttling the test because it did not like the results, and told the justices they should send the case back.

Sotomayor's Puerto Rican heritage would add ethnic diversity to the court. But her Ivy League education mirrors that of most of the justices -- all but one of whom attended either Harvard or Yale for part of their education. The eight justices she would serve with also were appellate court judges before joining the high court. But, as Obama pointed out, Sotomayor also served as a prosecutor and a lower court judge earlier in her career.

Obama interviewed Sotomayor for an hour in the Oval Office last Thursday, White House officials said. In all, the judge spent seven hours at the White House, talking with advisers who were in charge of helping Obama make the critical decision.

The president interviewed three others: Kagan, 49; U.S. appeals court Judge Diane P. Woods, 58; and Homeland security Secretary Janet Napolitano, 51, a senior White House official said. Woods and Kagan met with Obama last Tuesday. Napolitano met with the president on Thursday.

The advisers, who declined to speak on the record, said Obama had indicated to them after the interviews that he had an inclination of whom he would pick but that he wanted to think about the choice over the long Memorial Day weekend.

They said he was in his study in the East Wing of the White House when he informed them of his decision at about 8 p.m. Monday. He called Sotomayor to inform her of his choice, and then called the other three, the officials said.

Court watchers had speculated that Obama might use the vacancy to appoint a state-level judge, or possibly someone who was not a member of the bench -- perhaps a governor or current or former legislator.

In making the announcement today, Obama said he reached his decision "only after deep reflection and careful deliberation." Listing qualities that guided his choice, he said first was "a rigorous intellect, a mastery of the law, an ability to home in on the key issues and provide clear answers to complex legal questions." Second, he said, was "a recognition of the limits of the judicial role," a respect for precedent and an understanding that judges interpret the law rather than make it.

"And yet these qualities alone are insufficient," Obama said. "We need something more." He cited experiences in life, quoting renowned Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. "It is 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.

He noted that Sotomayor has been both a "big-city prosecutor and a corporate litigator." He said she spent six years trying cases in U.S. district court and, if confirmed, "would replace Justice Souter as the only justice with experience as a trial judge -- a perspective that would enrich the judgments of the court."

Obama singled out one of her roughly 450 district court cases for special praise, saying it "involved a matter of enormous concern to many Americans, including me: the baseball strike of 1994 and '95." Drawing laughter from the audience, the president went on: "In a decision that reportedly took her just 15 minutes to announce -- a swiftness much appreciated by baseball fans everywhere -- she issued an injunction that helped end the strike. Some say that Judge Sotomayor saved baseball."

He also noted that Sotomayor is "a lifelong Yankees fan," having been raised in a housing project not far from Yankee Stadium, and said he hoped this would not "disqualify her in the eyes of New Englanders in the Senate."

Sotomayor said her personal and professional experiences "have helped me appreciate the variety of perspectives that present themselves in every case that I hear" and to "understand, respect and respond to the concerns and arguments of all litigants," as well as the views of colleagues on the bench.

"I hope that as the Senate and American people learn more about me, they will see that I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences," she said.

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