Obama heads into his first Supreme Court nomination with a strong hand in the Senate, where Democrats control 59 seats out of 100, and potentially 60 when the disputed Minnesota Senate race is resolved. Barring a scandalous revelation about Sotomayor, she is expected to be confirmed.
But conservatives do not intend to go down without a fight. They appear poised to use Obama's nomination of Sotomayor as a way to frame the president's governing philosophy as outside the mainstream. Sotomayor's record includes involvement in a controversial affirmative-action case involving firefighters in New Haven, Conn., that is currently before the Supreme Court.
Fighting Sotomayor's nomination presents conservatives with a tricky calculation. Even if they score points on her jurisprudence, the struggling Republican Party can ill afford to alienate Hispanics and women more than it already has. In the last election, Obama won both groups by wide margins.
At age 54, she would be the second-youngest member of the court, after Chief Justice John Roberts, thus potentially setting up decades of clashes between what are expected to be competing views of the Constitution on a variety of issues.
Sotomayor has served on the federal bench for 16 years, as a US district court judge in New York City from 1992 to 1998 and as a judge on the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York from 1998 to present.