By Lisa Keen Keen News Service

Nominee would be first Hispanic, only third woman on nation’s highest court

President Obama on Tuesday, May 26 nominated federal appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to fill the seat being vacated by U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

Sotomayor (pronounced soh-toh-my-YOR), 54, is widely seen as a liberal. President Clinton appointed her to serve on the 2nd Circuit, which includes New York, Vermont and Connecticut. Prior to that, President George H.W. Bush appointed her to serve as a federal district court judge for the Southern District of New York.

If confirmed, she will become the first Hispanic member of the U.S. Supreme Court, the second woman currently on the high court bench, and the third woman ever to have served there.

Early reaction from gay legal activists is positive.

Long-time gay legal activist Paula Ettelbrick said she met Sotomayor in about 1991 when they both served on then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo’s advisory committee on fighting bias.

"Nobody wanted to talk to the queer person at that time," said Ettelbrick, who represented Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "She was the only one [on the advisory committee] who made a point to come over and introduce herself. She was totally interested [in gay civil rights issues] and supportive."

Evan Wolfson, head of the national Freedom to Marry organization, said, "From everything I know, Judge Sotomayor is an outstanding choice — fair and aware, open and judicious. I believe she has the demonstrated commitment to principles of equal protection and inclusion that defines a good nominee to the Supreme Court."

Wolfson said the president "has made a strong and appealing nomination that should and will receive the support of those committed to equality for lesbians and gay men."

The National LGBT Bar Association issued a statement saying it was pleased with the choice, noting that it represents "more diversity on the bench." In a press release Tuesday, the organization said that its executive director, D’Arcy Kemnitz, met with White House officials last week to "discuss potential nominees and the concerns of LGBT community."

"Sonia Sotomayor, who has shown empathy and fearlessness on the U.S. Court of Appeals, not only meets, but exceeds" the organization’s criteria for a nominee, Kemnitz said, citing the nominee’s "respect for the Constitutional right to privacy and a proven record supporting the right of Congress to promote civil rights."

Kevin Cathcart, executive director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the organization was pleased that the nominee is a woman of color.

"While women, people of color and self-identified gay people continue to be woefully underrepresented in the federal judiciary, Judge Sotomayor’s nomination represents a step in the right direction," Cathcart said.

Even before Obama nominated Sotomayor, much was being made in the media that, at a 2005 Duke University panel discussion about judicial clerkships, she said "court of appeals is where policy is made."

She immediately acknowledged the controversial nature of her statement: "I should never say that because we don’t make law — I know, I know. I’m not promoting it; I’m not advocating it."

Sotomayor was born in the South Bronx and raised in a housing project near Yankee Stadium. Her parents immigrated to New York from Puerto Rico. Her mother was part of the Women’s Army Corps and her father, who died when she was 9, was a factory worker.

Her interest in the law began as a child reading the Nancy Drew series. She divorced at age 28 and has no children.

There were rumors early on that the president was considering, on his short list for the nomination, two open lesbians, both Stanford Law professors: Pam Karlan and Kathleen Sullivan.

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