Obama Taps Sonia Sotomayor for High Court

Federal court judge would be the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court.

President Barack Obama with Sonia Sotomayor, his nominee for the Supreme Court.

President Barack Obama with Sonia Sotomayor, his nominee for the Supreme Court.

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BY Michael Saul

Updated on 5/26/09

President Obama announced Tuesday morning the nomination of federal court judge Sonia Sotomayor, who grew up in a Bronx housing project, as the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court.

Sotomayor, 54, will succeed retiring Associate Justice David Souter if she is confirmed by the Senate.

The first President Bush, a Republican, appointed Sotomayor to Manhattan Federal Court in 1992. President Clinton, a Democrat, elevated her to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 1998.

Sotomayor's nomination process could be rocky. Within days of Souter announcing his retirement, a video surfaced in which Sotomayor was caught saying the courts are the place where "policy is made" - an activist viewpoint sure to rankle conservatives.

She quickly added, "And I know this is on tape and I should never say that, because we don't make law. I know."

In an interview with the Daily News in 1998, Sotomayor, a diehard Yankees fan, said she long believed she would rise to the top of her profession.

"I was going to college and I was going to become an attorney, and I knew that when I was 10," Sotomayor said. "Ten. That's no jest."

As a child, Sotomayor became enamored with Nancy Drew stories and wanted to be a detective like the female heroine of those popular childhood mystery books. At age 8, she was diagnosed with diabetes and was told detective work wasn't in the cards.

"I became very disappointed about not having a life plan," she told The News. "At the time, 'Perry Mason' had become a very popular show, and I loved Perry Mason. If I couldn't do detective work as a police officer, I could do it as a lawyer."

Sotomayor, the daughter of  Puerto Rican parents, then set out to fulfill her dreams in the legal world.

Her father, a factory worker, died when she was 9. Her mother supported Sotomayor and her brother, now a doctor, by working at methadone clinics.

She enrolled at Princeton University, an experience she described as the "single most growing event of my life" and graduated summa cum laude in 1976. She earned her law degree at Yale, where she was editor of the law journal.

Sotomayor began her post-college career as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, working for legendary top prosecutor Robert Morgenthau.

Her job soon became her life. In 1983, she divorced her husband, whom she married while a student at Princeton. The couple had no children and she has not remarried.

A year later, she entered private practice, and she became partner within three years.

In 1991, Sen. Daniel Patrick Monynihan recommended Sotomayor to the first President Bush, who made good on a promise to appoint a Hispanic judge to a district court in New York.

At 40, Sotomayor became the youngest judge in the Southern District of New York and the first American of Puerto Rican descent.

In, 1995, she famously took only 15 minutes to issue an injunction that soon led to the settlement in the 1994-95 Major League Baseball strike.