As Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor stood next to President Obama on Tuesday, she admitted to being a bit nervous and "deeply moved."
And then the Puerto Rican child of the housing projects in the Bronx, N.Y., made it clear who she believed was mostly responsible for her being in position to become the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court: her mother.
"I have often said that I am all I am because of her, and I am only half the woman she is," Sotomayor said of Celina Sotomayor, who worked as a nurse six days a week to support her family.
Obama's selection of Sonia Sotomayor, 54, drew an emotional wave of praise from Hispanic groups. Sotomayor's story — a minority rising from humble beginnings to, potentially, the top rungs of American government — rivals that of Obama himself, and suggests a steeliness that could be helpful in a Senate confirmation process that can be intimidating.
In nominating Sotomayor, Obama talked as much about her success story — from New York's projects to Princeton, Yale Law School and appointments to federal judgeships — as he did about Sotomayor's views on the law.
"She's faced down barriers, overcome the odds, lived out the American dream that brought her parents here so long ago," Obama said, noting that Sotomayor's father was a factory worker with a third-grade education who didn't speak English. He died when she was 9.
If approved by the Senate, Sotomayor would be the third woman ever to join the high court and the second on the current bench, joining Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In announcing his choice as a successor to retiring Justice David Souter and the first high-court nomination of his tenure, Obama called Sotomayor an "inspiring woman who I believe will make a great justice."
As a successor to the liberal Souter on the divided, nine-member court, Sotomayor is not likely to tip the ideological balance of the bench. Yet she would bring diversity to the court — whose members include eight whites and one African American (conservative Clarence Thomas) — not only in her ethnicity, but in how she arrived at the high court.
Sotomayor won a scholarship to Princeton, then attended Yale Law School. She became a prosecutor in New York, then a corporate litigator, before being seated to a federal trial court by the first President Bush. Six years later, President Clinton elevated her to a New York-based appeals court.
On Tuesday, Sotomayor presented herself much in the vein of the president, as someone who beat the odds of economics, race and ethnicity in childhood.
"My heart today is bursting with gratitude," she said.
Lisa Zornberg, a former law clerk to Sotomayor, said "the way she presented herself is entirely true to how she is as a person. She is 100% authentic. She is a dynamo. She is incredibly charming and very much about real-world pragmatism."
Democrats, including Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., praised her "exemplary record" and said he would work closely with Republicans to win confirmation.
Republican senators, including Minority LeaderMitch McConnell of Kentucky, said they would need time to review Sotomayor's 17-year record as a judge.
"We will thoroughly examine her record to ensure she understands that the role of a jurist in our democracy is to apply the law evenhandedly, despite their own feelings or personal or political preferences," McConnell said.