WASHINGTON (CN) – President Barack Obama today nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice. Sotomayor, 54, was appointed to the federal bench in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush. President Bill Clinton appointed her to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in 1997. In announcing the nomination, Obama mentioned that Sotomayor, a native of The Bronx, is a lifelong Yankees fan. “I hope this will not disqualify her,” he said.
Sotomayor is considered a centrist. After Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement in 2005, Sotomayor was mentioned as a possible replacement, but President George Bush nominated Samuel Alito.
Despite her moderate stance, Republican groups immediately attacked Sotomayor as a “liberal judicial activist.”
Some seized upon a remark she made in a speech at UC-Berkeley in 2002. Sotomayor said that her ethnicity and gender play a role in her decision making. “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
In a statement Tuesday, Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would decide during the confirmation process whether Sotomayor is capable of making decisions impartially.
“Judges swear an oath to decide cases impartially, without regard to the identity of the parties before them,” he said. “I will focus on determining whether Judge Sotomayor is committed to deciding cases based only on the law as made by the people and their elected representatives, not on personal feelings or politics.”
Obama praised Sotomayor’s intellect and her recognition of the limits of the judicial role as essential qualities for anyone who takes the position. He said Sotomayor has an “experience that can give people a common touch and a sense of compassion.”
Sotomayor was born to Puerto Rican parents in The Bronx. Her father died when she was 9. Her mother, a nurse at a methadone clinic, raised Sotomayor and her younger brother as a single parent in a South Bronx housing project, often working two jobs.
Sotomayor graduated from Cardinal Spellman High School in The Bronx, graduated summa cum laude from Princeton in 1976, and from Yale Law School in 1979, where she was an editor of the law journal.
In her most well-known ruling, Judge Sotomayor issued an injunction against Major League Baseball owners in 1995, ending a baseball strike that lasted almost 8 months and caused the cancellation of the World Series.
“Some say Judge Sotomayor saved baseball,” Obama said during his nomination announcement.
In a short speech after she was nominated, Sotomayor said, “I strive never to forget the real world consequences of my decision on individuals, businesses, and government. … I firmly believe in the rule of law as the foundation of all of our basic rights. It would be a profound privilege for me to play a role in applying those principles to the questions and controversies we face today.”
After graduating from Yale, Sotomayor worked as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, under Robert Morgenthau. She left that office to enter private practice in 1984, and eventually became a partner with Pavia & Harcourt, where she specialized in intellectual property.
Obama is said to have considered Judge Diane P. Wood of Chicago, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Solicitor General Elena Kagan as other finalists for the Supreme Court seat.