News Column

Judge Sonia Sotomayor a Frontrunner to Replace Souter on High Court

May 1, 2009


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With Justice David H. Souter preparing to step down in June from the high court, many are speculating that the top candidate to replace him is Sonia Sotomayor, who, if selected, would be the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.

Sotomayor, a 54-year-old woman of Puerto Rican descent who rose to prominence despite being raised poor in the Bronx, was appointed by President Clinton to the seat she currently holds on the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Sotomayor has 16 years' experience in the courts and is a graduate of Yale Law School. Described as a centrist by some and a liberal by others, Sotomayor's high-profile decisions include the go-ahead for The Wall Street Journal to publish the suicide note of White House attorney Vince Foster. She also sided with labor in the Major League Baseball strike of 1995.

Sotomayor has been listed in Hispanic Business Magazine as one of the nation's 100 most influential Hispanics.

Today, as news of Souter's planned retirement spread, several media outlets named her as being not only among those on a short list of several possible successors, but the one most likely to be picked.

Sotomayor was the first of five names mentioned on the Huffington Post, which quoted a recent forum discussion from the Columbia Law School Magazine in which legal experts speculated that she would be the top candidate.

The women's magazine Web site wowOwow speculated that she was the top candidate, citing how, last month, New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand sent President Obama a letter urging him to appoint a Hispanic to the court should a vacancy open up.

They suggested either Sotomayor or Obama-appointment Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Sotomayor was also on the short list of the New York Times, which speculated that the likely successor will be a woman, since the only female currently on the court is 76-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

However, not all pundits agree she is the top pick. Among the skeptics is Politico commentator Ben Smith.

"There's some basically vacuous, but plausible, conventional wisdom saying that Judge Sonia Sotomayor is a likely pick," he wrote. "I'd suspect, though, that Obama will be tempted to pick one of the prominent legal minds whom he knows personally, and whose philosophy he likes, given his own engagement with legal theory."

Although she's considered left-leaning, Sotomayor, like Souter, is an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, who nominated her for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. This made her the first Hispanic federal judge in New York state.

Souter, too, despite being nominated by a Republican, over the years proved to be a stalwart of the left.

Source: (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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