Choice of justice fits society's makeup, Georgia supporters say

The historic nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court is a major step toward making the nation's highest court reflective of the nation's diverse society, supporters say.

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President Barack Obama's choice to replace Justice David Souter is a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent and modest beginnings who was raised in a Bronx public housing project.

If the Senate confirms her nomination, Sotomayor, now a federal appeals judge, will be the first Latina and third woman overall to serve on the high court.

Of the nine current Supreme Court justices, one is an African-American man and one is a woman.

"The court should be representative of all Americans. It is a little more representative now than it was this morning," said Eric Segall, a Georgia State University professor who teaches federal courts and constitutional law.

"The fact that we do not have any Hispanics on the court is a glaring omission," said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. "I'm proud that President Obama has looked at that.

"I do think that she would be a good justice, and I hope they moved to confirm her quickly," Gonzalez added.

State Rep. Pedro Marin (D-Duluth), like Sotomayor of Puerto Rican descent, was "ecstatic" about the nomination choice.

"I am glad that the Supreme Court will become more representative of the diversity we enjoy in our society," Marin said.

The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, the veteran civil rights leader, called Sotomayor's selection "a compelling story of the American dream fulfilled."

"From public housing to the highest level of public service in the judiciary is an incredible journey rendered even more remarkable by the fact that she is a woman and a minority," Lowery said in a statement.

Republicans have pledged a fair confirmation hearing but have expressed concerns that Sotomayor may rely on personal experiences rather than constitutional principles in making decisions.

The Judicial Confirmation Network, a conservative group, was blunt in its criticism of Sotomayor's nomination, calling her in a statement "a liberal judicial activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important than the law as written."

In introducing Sotomayor as his nominee, Obama praised her as "an inspiring woman" possessing intellect and judicial experience.

Lori Ringhand, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Georgia School of Law, called Sotomayor's choice interesting though not surprising.

The former Manhattan prosecutor had appeared on many short lists of possible nominees.

"She will probably draw a little bit of fire during the confirmation process, but that's not surprising," Ringhand said.

Ringhand said Sotomayor's opinions are very close to Souter's, who over his 19 years on the high court gradually drifted toward the court's liberal wing.

"In the short term, her replacing Souter will not make a dramatic difference in the output of the court," she said.

If there is a challenge Sotomayor will face, Segall of Georgia State said, "it is that she is more moderate than five other members of the court."

Sotomayor, who at 54 would be the youngest justice on the court, could find herself ruling on cases pertaining to the Voting Rights Act, the ability of local governments to engage in affirmative action, or the minutiae of the electoral process.

"You'll never know what is important in 10 years," Ringhand said. "It's almost impossible for the president and the Senate to predict what's going to matter to them."