President Barack Obama called Judge Sonia Sotomayor at 9 p.m. on Memorial Day to say she was his pick for the Supreme Court.
Obama showed he was willing to pick a fight with his choice — Republicans do not consider her a “consensus” choice and had telegraphed that they considered her the most liberal of the four finalists.
He played smart base politics with the historic choice of a Hispanic (a first) and a woman.
And he fulfilled his pledge to pick someone with a common touch by nominating someone who was raised in a Bronx housing project, and lost her father at age 9.
Right after talking to Sotomayor on Monday night, the president telephoned the three other finalists, each of whom he had formally interviewed for the job — Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Solicitor General Elena Kagan and federal appeal Judge Diane Wood of Chicago.
Then the president called congressional leaders on Tuesday morning.
By making the pick during a congressional recess, when lawmakers are back home or on far-flung foreign trips, Obama caught the Republican minority off-guard, with critics not equipped to respond with the force they would during the session.
Although the press reported that he had interviewed Wood, Sotomayor was at the White House for seven hours on Thursday without being discovered by reporters.
An Obama aide said the president “was blown away by her — her personal story, her sharp intellect and confidence, and her experience as prosecutor, trial judge, litigator and appellate judge.”
Ironically, it’s the pick both sides wanted:
— As the most arguably liberal of the four finalists, Sotomayor provides the most fodder for conservative groups, which have vowed to spend millions of dollars on television advertising. Leaders hope a court brawl will help rebuild their movement.
— Democrats like that Justice David Souter is being replaced by a Hispanic woman, and feel sure she’ll be confirmed. As insurance, they note that when she was confirmed for the federal appeals court in 1988, among those voting for her were then-Sen. Bill Frist and then-Sen. Rick Santorum, both of whom are abortion opponents.
Democrats contend that Sotomayor does not have a long paper trail on hot-button social issues, especially abortion. In one case, the administration will argue she came down on the side of judicial restraint.
Other arguments the administration will be making in support of Sotomayor:
— Her incredible American story and three decades of distinguished career in nearly every aspect of the law provide her with unique qualifications to be the next Supreme Court justice.
— As a prosecutor, litigator and trial and appellate judge, Sotomayor brings more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice in 100 years, and more overall judicial experience than anyone confirmed for the Court in the past 70 years.
— Sotomayor is widely admired as a judge with a sophisticated grasp of legal doctrine and a keen awareness of the law’s impact on everyday life. She understands that upholding the rule of law means going beyond legal theory to ensure consistent, fair, common-sense application of the law to real-world facts.