Latina nominated to Supreme Court

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WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama has nominated federal appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, and if she is confirmed, the New York native of Puerto Rican descent would become the first Hispanic to serve on the high court.

Obama announced his choice of Sotomayor, 54, at a brief event at the White House May 26. If confirmed by the Senate, she would join the court when the next term opens in October, replacing retiring Justice David Souter.

At the White House announcement, Sotomayor described herself as "an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences."

Sotomayor has been a judge on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals since 1998, nominated to that post by President Bill Clinton. Before that she spent six years as a U.S. District Court judge in New York, nominated to that position by President George H.W. Bush in 1991. She also served as an assistant New York County district attorney and worked in private practice.

She was joined at the White House by her mother, Celina Sotomayor; her mother's husband, Omar Lopez; and her brother, Juan, a New York physician, and his wife and children.

In announcing his choice, Obama called Sotomayor "an inspiring woman," who "has never forgotten where she began," describing her childhood in a housing project in New York's South Bronx section, where she was born in 1954. Her parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico during the Second World War.

Obama noted that Sotomayor's mother had been in the Army during World War II, beginning a family tradition of public service and high aspirations. Sotomayor's father, who had only a third-grade education and spoke little English, died when she was 9.

That left her mother often working two jobs to be able to afford to send her two children to Cardinal Spellman Catholic School, Obama said.

"They had the only set of encyclopedias in the neighborhood," he said.

Her success in high school led to a scholarship to Princeton University, where she graduated at the top of her class, and Yale Law School, where she was editor of the law journal.

A notice on the Web site of Cardinal Spellman said she graduated from the New York archdiocesan school in 1972.

Sotomayor is divorced and has no children. It is unclear if she is a practicing Catholic. If she is, she would become the sixth Catholic on the current court, joining Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009