With Justice David H. Souter leaving, will Sonia Sotomayor finally make it to the U.S. Supreme Court?
Sotomayor, 54, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, was an early favorite to replace Souter in an online poll conducted by Above the Law, a legal affairs blog.
Souter will resign at the end of the current term, giving President Barack Obama his first vacancy on the court.
By Monday morning, 28 percent of those responding to the Above the Law poll had said that Obama should nominate Sotomayor.
Elena Kagan, the new U.S. solicitor general, was in second place with 20 percent of the vote, followed by Diane Pamela Wood, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh District, with 17 percent.
The presence of three women as the top vote-getters reflected the general assumption that Obama’s first nominee would be a woman.
Currently, there is only one female justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“The legal profession is now almost half women, more than half the law students in America are women,” said Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s senior legal analyst. “It does seem a weird imbalance that there is only one justice.”
Sotomayor, whose parents were from Puerto Rico and who grew up in a Bronx housing project, would also fill another gap on the court, the absence of a justice who is Hispanic-American.
A graduate of Princeton University, Sotomayor went on to Yale Law School, graduating in 1979. After that, she served five years as assistant district attorney in Manhattan and then went into private practice.
In late 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated her to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Second District. The Senate confirmed her in August 1992.
Her most publicized decision on that court came in 1995 when she ruled on the side of Major League baseball players, ending the baseball strike that had begun the previous year.
In June 1997, President Bill Clinton nominated Sotomayor to the seat she now occupies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District.
Republicans in the Senate held the nomination hostage for more than a year before it was approved in October 1998.
According to The New York Times, Republicans dragged their feet because they did not want to sign off on a nominee who then might be picked by Clinton to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court.
Presumably, it would be harder for them to oppose someone they had recently approved, the newspaper wrote.
At that time, there was no Supreme Court vacancy, though there was speculation that Justice John Paul Stevens, then 78 years old, was ready to step down. Now 89, Stevens continues to serve.
In 1998, some Republicans faulted Sotomayor for being an “activist” judge, but she also had the support of some conservatives in the Senate. Most often, she is seen as a moderate.
“I’m a down-to-earth litigator, and that’s what I expect I’ll be like as a judge,” she told Times in 1992 before taking a seat on the federal bench.