WASHINGTON — Topping several speculative lists of President Barack Obama's choice to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter is New York's Sonia Sotomayor, a trailblazing judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in the Manhattan borough of New York.
Sotomayor has been mentioned as a potential justice by Democrats since the 1990s.
She quickly became a target of conservative groups, who Friday denounced her for a "hard-left" judicial record that is colored by her personal life and her reputation as a "bully." In 1998, Republicans delayed her circuit court nomination for many months.
Her supporters say Sotomayor, 54, has a remarkable life story, a strong resume and a centrist record — and that as a Puerto Rican woman she would add diversity to the bench.
Already, Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., wrote Obama Friday to recommend her; Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who declined to state his top choice, said she meets his criteria of excellence, political moderation and diversity.
"She is considered one of the brightest judges on the court," said Jamal Green, a Columbia law professor who clerked with another 2nd Circuit judge. But he said she also is one of the circuit's most liberal judges.
During her nearly two decades as a judge — six years as a district judge and 11 as an appellate judge — she has had high-profile roles.
She ruled for the special prosecutor in a Watergate case, against team owners in a case that ended the 1994 baseball strike, and upheld a police prison sentence in the Abner Louima brutality case.
More recently, she voted against hearing an appeal in a reverse discrimination lawsuit brought by white firefighters. The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in that case.
Born and raised in a Bronx housing project by working-class parents, Sotomayor says the TV show Perry Mason inspired her at age 10 to become a lawyer. She won scholarships to Princeton University and Yale Law School.
In 1979, she went to work for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and in 1984 joined the business law firm Pavia and Harcourt. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush named her a district judge on the recommendation of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y.
President Bill Clinton named her to the circuit court in 1997, and the Senate confirmed her 68-28 in 1998.