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Profile: Sonia Sotomayor

Long before US President Barack Obama picked her to replace Justice David Souter on the US Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor had regularly been talked about as a future Supreme Court justice.

Sonia Sotomayor, file image
Ms Sotomayor grew up on a public housing estate in the South Bronx

An impressive legal scholar, with years of experience on the US Appeals Court, she would always have been one of the front-runners to sit on the highest court in the US.

And, for liberals, her compelling life story made her a virtually irresistible candidate to be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.

And after a smooth performance at her confirmation hearings, Ms Sotomayor was approved by 68 votes to 31 in the US Senate.

Born to Puerto Rican parents in the South Bronx in 1954, Ms Sotomayor grew up on a public housing estate.

She was diagnosed with diabetes when she was eight years old, and her father, a manual worker who did not speak English, died the next year.

Her mother, a nurse, brought her and her younger brother up on her own.

Saving baseball

After completing her high school education at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx, she went to Princeton University, graduating summa cum laude in 1976, and winning the Pyne Prize, one of the highest awards given to undergraduates there.

She studied law at Yale Law School, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Review.

After college, she served as an Assistant District Attorney in New York County. In 1984, she left to enter private practice at the firm of Pavia & Harcourt, where she specialised in intellectual property law.

After seven years in the private sector, Ms Sotomayor was nominated to sit on the US District Court for the Southern District of New York by Republican President George H W Bush, becoming the youngest judge on the court, and the first Hispanic federal judge in the state.

It was while she was sitting on the District Court that she issued one of her more famous rulings: her injunction against Major League Baseball, preventing them from enforcing a new collective bargaining agreement, ended the 1994 baseball strike.

In 1997, she was elevated by Democratic President Bill Clinton to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, covering New York, Connecticut and Vermont.

She is widely regarded as a moderate - she received appointments from Democratic and Republican presidents, and her nomination to the Second Circuit was approved by a large majority in the Senate, including many Republicans.

Some conservatives - who fear the appointment of "activist" judges to the Supreme Court - object to a remark she made in 2005 at a panel at Duke University that "policy is made" in the courts.

After her nomination was announced, attention was focused on a decision she co-authored in a case involving firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut.

A group of white firefighters had sued city authorities after they were passed over for promotion because the officials had thrown out the results of an exam in which black firefighters had done disproportionately badly.

Ms Sotomayor and her fellow Appeals Court judges ruled that the city authorities had been justified in their actions, because they would have been liable for lawsuits on grounds of racial discrimination if the test results had been accepted.

The decision was overturned, however, when the US Supreme Court looked at the case in June 2009.

Ms Sotomayor faced questions in her Senate confirmation hearings on the ruling, as well as her comment, made in 2001, that she "would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

But with a large Democratic majority in the Senate, and a number of moderate Republicans prepared to cross the partisan divide, her confirmation was always likely to be smooth.

And so liberals were able to welcome a woman whose biography embodies the American Dream onto the Supreme Court.



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