x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Obama to make supreme court pick

Barack Obama is expected to make history and nominate appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor to be the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court.

The US President Barack Obama will today make history and nominate appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor to be the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court, a White House official said. The move, which is likely to delight Latino voters, a fast-growing demographic bloc which helped power Mr Obama's election win last year, will mark the president's first bid to shape the highest US court for a generation beyond his presidency.

The nomination of Ms Sotomayor, 54, which requires Senate confirmation, was revealed by a White House official on condition of anonymity, ahead of an official announcement. If confirmed, she would replace retiring Justice David Souter, who is to retire next month. Mr Obama has spent days considering possible Supreme Court nominees and appears to have reached his final decision over the three-day Memorial Day weekend.

Ms Sotomayor's personal rise as a member of an ethnic minority from a poor childhood in the Bronx in New York, to the pinnacle of US justice, mirrors Mr Obama's own storybook ascent to power. The president had been under pressure to pick a woman and a minority, for a body that has been dominated by white males, with a few exceptions, for the bulk of US history. Hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee will be expected to take place in July to allow the full chamber to vote on Ms Sotomayor's nomination to allow her to take up her seat at the start of the court's new term in October.

The nomination will set up a pitched political battle between Democrats backing Mr Obama's nomination and Republicans and allied interest groups which will seek to torpedo it, and wound the new president in the process. But absent any personal or ethical revelations about Ms Sotomayor, who has a liberal record on the bench, Democrats, given their large majority in the Senate, are likely to prevail.

Princeton-educated Ms Sotomayor, who hails from a Puerto Rican family, will be the second woman currently on the nine-judge panel, alongside Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her nomination comes after former president George W Bush's picks of conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. The Supreme Court plays a vital role at the centre of the rule of law in the United States, as one of the three branches of US government, and is the ultimate court of appeals and is the final arbiter of the US constitution.

Justices have lifetime tenure, though some retire earlier. Divorced with no children, and with a reputation as a workaholic, Ms Sotomayor often speaks of the courts as "the last refuge for the oppressed." In an American Bar Association profile in 2000, she described a empathetic approach that she felt she brought to the law. "The practice of law is perhaps the most diverse, eclectic exposure to life that you can receive," she said.

Mr Obama had said that he wanted to chose a nominee with an empathetic streak, and an insight into the impact of top-level jurisprudence on the lives of everyday people. *AFP