Minority Nominee Sotomayor Leaves GOP Walking Fine Line

Sonia Sotomayor to become first hispanic Supreme Court justice if confirmed.

ByABC News
May 8, 2009, 4:14 PM

May 26, 2009— -- Federal appealsjudge Sonia Sotomayor today called President Obama's decision to nominate her to the Supreme Court "the most humbling honor of my life."

But if Republican opponents have their way, her path to the Court could be anything but smooth. Several conservative lawmakers spent the hours after Obama's announcement this morning promising a thorough vetting in the Senate confirmation process.

Conservative voices and interest groups put together an immediate message portraying Sotomayor as an "activist" liberal, and radio host Rush Limbaugh pounced on Sotomayor, saying, "She is an affirmative action case extraordinaire."

"I doubt that Sotomayor can be stopped. She should be. She is a horrible pick," he said.

If confirmed, Sotomayor would make history as the first Hispanic justice, and would be only the third woman to ascend to the nation's highest court. Those facts could put Republican senators in an awkward position during the confirmation process, according to one Republican strategist.

"I think this is a bold and fairly masterful political stroke by President Obama," strategist Phil Musser said on ABCNews.com's "Top Line" today. "This is not a pick that necessarily can be good politics for Republican senators. I mean, having older white senators up there grilling the first Hispanic – up-from-the-boot-straps, Hispanic Supreme Court nominee -- that's a tough one for us OK, let's just be honest about that."

Given that, Musser said, the best GOP strategy is to hold back a bit and see what comes out about Sotomayor's record on the federal bench.

The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the panel that holds confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominees, congratulated Sotomayor, but noted that the committee's role "is to act on behalf of the American people to carefully scrutinize Ms. Sotomayor's qualifications, experience, and record."

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R- Ala., said the lawmakers will examine her past judicial opinions, speeches and academic writings "to determine if she has demonstrated the characteristics that great judges share: integrity, impartiality, legal expertise, and a deep and unwavering respect for the rule of law."

Obama, who called Sotomayor Monday night around 9 p.m. ET to tell her of his decision, said he decided to nominate her to the lifetime spot on the Supreme Court "only after deep reflection and careful deliberation."

Part of his decision-making process included a secret meeting with Sotomayor last Thursday in the Oval Office. She spent approximately seven hours meeting with the president and key White House staff after she and a friend drove to Washington to lessen the chances of being spotted.