Justice Sotomayor welcomed as newest member of Supreme Court

President Barack Obama, honoring the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court today, hailed the seating of Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor as "another step toward that more perfect union that we all seek.''

And Sotomayor, the first Hispanic member of the nation's highest court, emotionally proclaimed that "it is this nation's faith in a more perfect union that allows a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx to stand here now.''

The president and his first appointee to the high court appeared this morning at a celebratory reception in the East Room of the White House, where several members of Congress, a couple of new colleagues on the court, old friends and family of the federal judge from New York applauded them.

The president stood by the judge -- "who I am proud to address for the very first time as Justice Sonia Sotomayor,'' he said -- acknowledging Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens in the audience at the White House. "I know you'll be giving Justice Sotomayor some good tips.''

"We're here not just to celebrate our extraordinary new Supreme Court justice,'' Obama said. "We're here to celebrate an extraordinary moment for our nation… We celebrate the greatness of a nation in which such a story is possible.''

With the Senate's confirmation of Sotomayor, the president said, it has reaffirmed that, "in America the doors of opportunity must be open to all…

"Her life is one of those, 'only in America' stories, raised by a single mom in the South Bronx… propelled by hard work… at the best schools in the country,'' the president said. "No dream is beyond reach in the United States of America…. ''

The nation's founding fathers "did not presume to know how the times would change.'' Instead, he said, they set "ideals that would be timeless.'' And when Sotomayor took her oath of office, "we took yet another step in realizing those ideals. We took yet another step toward that perfect union that we all seek.

"It's about every child who will grow up thinking to herself or himself, 'If Sonia Sotomayor can make it, then maybe I will, too,''' Obama said to applause in the hall. '"If she could overcome so much and go so far, then why can't I?'''

"This is a great day for America,'' said Obama.

Sotomayor, with her mother in the audience, appeared to choke back tears as she stepped to a podium where the president had introduced her as his nominee just months ago.

"No words can adequately express what I am feeling,'' she said, voicing "the most heartfelt appreciation'' for the trust that the president and the Senate have placed in her.

"I am most grateful to this country,'' Sotomayor said. "I stand here today knowing that my (appointment) as an associate justice of the Supreme Court never would have been possible without the opportunities this country'' provided her.

"Our Constitution has survived domestic and international tumult, including a civil war, two world wars and the catastrophe of September the 11th,'' she said. "It is this nation's faith in a more perfect union that allows a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx to stand here now.''

Sotomayor asked her friends and the nation for "divine guidance and wisdom in administering my new office.''

The federal judge from New York, a member of the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals and former U.S. District judge before her appointment to the highest court, is not expected to change the ideological balance of the Supreme Court. Sworn into office on Saturday, she has replaced retired Justice David Souter.

Critics had questioned her impartiality, seizing on a comment that she had made about the judgment that "a wise Latina'' brings to the table. But in the end, both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate backed her appointment with overwhelming votes, including nine Republican members of the Senate supporting the Democratic president's nominee.

mdsilva@tribune.com

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