Meet the nominee

MEET THE NOMINEE…. Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination is not a surprise. She has long been considered a frontrunner for the vacancy — George Stephanopoulos predicted Sotomayor’s nomination back in March, before Souter’s retirement.

And while much of the focus will be on Sotomayor’s gender and ethnicity — if confirmed, she will be the high court’s first Hispanic justice — she’s had a pretty remarkable career. This NYT piece from a couple of weeks ago notes the judge’s role in ending the 1995 major league baseball strike, but also notes a fascinating personal background.

[H]er potential appeal to President Obama as a nominee to the Supreme Court also derives in part from her personal story, a version of the up-from-modest-circumstances tales that have long been used to build political support. Judge Sotomayor, 54, grew up in a Bronx housing project, a child of Puerto Rican parents. She would be the court’s first Hispanic justice.

Her father died when she was 9, leaving her mother to raise her and a brother. In speeches to Latino groups over the years, Judge Sotomayor has recalled how her mother worked six days a week as a nurse to send her and her brother to Catholic school, purchased the only set of encyclopedias in the neighborhood and kept a warm pot of rice and beans on the stove every day for their friends.

She loved Nancy Drew mysteries, she once said, and yearned to be a police detective. But a doctor who diagnosed her childhood diabetes suggested that would be difficult. She traded her adoration of Nancy for an allegiance to Perry — she became a fan of Perry Mason on television, she said, and decided to become a lawyer.

She went to Princeton, which she has described as a life-changing experience. When she arrived on campus from the Bronx, she said it was like “a visitor landing in an alien country.” She never raised her hand in her first year there. “I was too embarrassed and too intimidated to ask questions,” Judge Sotomayor said.

In one speech, she sounded some themes similar to Mr. Obama’s description of his social uncertainties as a biracial youth in a largely white society.

“I have spent my years since Princeton, while at law school and in my various professional jobs, not feeling completely a part of the worlds I inhabit,” she said, adding that that despite her accomplishments, “I am always looking over my shoulder wondering if I measure up.”

After graduating summa cum laude from Princeton, she went to Yale Law School, worked for Robert M. Morgenthau in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and spent time in private practice before being named to the bench.

H.W. Bush nominated her for the district court in 1992 (she’d been recommended by Daniel Patrick Moynihan), and Clinton nominated her for the appeals court bench five years later. Senate Republicans, as is their habit, held up Sotomayor’s nomination for more than a year, “because they believed that as a Hispanic appellate judge she would be a formidable candidate for the Supreme Court.”

This month, as it appeared increasingly likely that Sotomayor would be Obama’s nominee, the judge has been the target of a whisper campaign, and many leading far-right activists — including Limbaugh and Fox News personalities — started the offensive against her weeks ago.

For what it’s worth, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said earlier this month that Sotomayor would face stiff GOP opposition if she were nominated for the high court. Since that would be true of any Obama nominee, it hardly matters.