Obama picks Hispanic jurist

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama has chosen New York jurist Sonia Sotomayor to succeed Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court.

If nominated, she would be the nation’s first Hispanic justice. Obama said he was looking for a jurist who had “a common touch and a sense of compassion.”

He said he had looked far and wide before settling on the 54-year-old Sotomayor, who initially was named to a federal judgeship by President George W Bush. Obama noted that Sotomayor would replace Souter as the only trial judge on the high court. Administration officials say Sotomayor, with 17 years on the bench, would bring more judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice confirmed in the past 70 years.

White House officials said the president interviewed Sotomayor at the White House on Thursday, a fact that was kept secret until now. Obama made the final decision yesterday and called Sotomayor from the White House to give her the news.

Obama had said publicly he wanted a justice who combined intellect and empathy - the ability to understand the troubles of everyday Americans. While Republican critics chafed at that, Democrats hold a large majority in the Senate, and barring the unexpected, Sotomayor’s confirmation should be assured.

If approved, she would join Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second woman on the current court.

In one of Sotomayor’s most notable decisions, as an appellate judge she sided last year with the city of New Haven, Connecticut, in a discrimination case brought by white firefighters.