President Barack Obama called Judge Sonia Sotomayor at 9 p.m. on Memorial Day to say she was his pick for the Supreme Court.
Obama showed he was willing to pick a fight with his choice - Republicans do not consider her a "consensus" nominee and had signaled that they considered her the most liberal of the four finalists.
He played smart base politics with the historic selection of a Hispanic (a first) and a woman.
And he fulfilled his pledge to pick someone with a common touch by nominating someone who was raised in a Bronx housing project, and lost her father at age 9.
Then the president called the two Senate leaders and ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday morning.
By making the pick during a congressional recess, when lawmakers are back home or on far-flung foreign trips, Obama caught the Republican minority off-guard, with critics not equipped to respond with the force they would during the session.
Although the press reported that he had interviewed Wood, Sotomayor was at the White House for seven hours on Thursday without being discovered by reporters.
An Obama aide said the president, who interviewed her for an hour in the Oval Office, "was blown away by her - her personal story, her sharp intellect and confidence, and her experience as prosecutor, trial judge, litigator and appellate judge."
There was a "full vet," according to a senior administration official, and both her taxes and health were examined.
Sotomayor has diabetes, and White House aides consulted both her doctor and other doctors to ensure that she was fit to serve.
"I don't think there's any stone that's been left unturned," said a senior administration official.
Ironically, it's the pick both sides wanted:
- As the most arguably liberal of the four finalists, Sotomayor provides the most fodder for conservative groups, which have vowed to spend millions of dollars on television advertising. Leaders hope a court brawl will help rebuild their movement.
- Democrats like that Justice David Souter is being replaced by a Hispanic woman, and feel sure she'll be confirmed. As insurance, they note that when she was confirmed for the federal appeals court in 1998, among those voting for her were then-Sen. Bill Frist and then-Sen. Rick Santorum, both of whom are abortion opponents.
Democrats contend that Sotomayor does not have a long paper trail on hot-button social issues, especially abortion. In one case, the administration will argue she came down on the side of judicial restraint.
Sotomayor's record on the divisive issue of abortion is murky. In 17 years on the federal bench, she has issued no opinions dealing directly with abortion rights. And in two cases dealing tangentially with the issue-involving anti-abortion protesters and the government right to limit abortion-related speech by foreign recipients of U.S. aid-the appeals court judge's ruling favored abortion opponents. Still, anti-abortion forces are convinced that Obama would not nominate Sotomayor without being confident that she supports abortion rights.
Other arguments the administration will be making in support of Sotomayor:
- Her incredible American story and three decades of distinguished career in nearly every aspect of the law provide her with unique qualifications to be the next Supreme Court justice.
- As a prosecutor, litigator and trial and appellate judge, Sotomayor brings more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice in 100 years, and more overall judicial experience than anyone confirmed for the Court in the past 70 years.
- Sotomayor is widely admired as a judge with a sophisticated grasp of legal doctrine and a keen awareness of the law's impact on everyday life. She understands that upholding the rule of law means going beyond legal theory to ensure consistent, fair, common-sense application of the law to real-world facts.
Obama looked at "volumes of material" on the final four candidates and aides read the opinions and legal writings of over 40 prospects, according to a senior administration official. They narrowed the list to nine, of which information was obtained, before bringing in the final four to meet with the president.
Cynthia Hogan, Vice President Biden's Counsel and a former Staff Director of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been chosen to help lead the confirmation effort along with Stephanie Cutter, according to a senior administration official. And Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), an early backer of Sotomayor, is expected to play an active role as her home state's senior senator.
But Obama aides are hoping to avoid a contentious battle with Senate Republicans.
"I hesitate to use the term war room because we're not anticipating a war," said a senior administration official of their confirmation preparations.
As for whether they're inviting Republicans to oppose the first Hispanic on the high court and suffer the resulting political consequences, a senior administration official said: "We're not daring anybody to do anything. We're inviting people to support an outstanding nominee."
But the same official said the president felt like her history-making appeal was a "positive thing."
A top Democrat close to the White House was more candid about the political implications among a fast-growing constituency in some of the most pivotal presidential states.
"For those of us who think about electoral votes, we feel kind of good about it," said the Democrat.