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Obama, Sotomayor note her ascendancy to high court

President Barack Obama applauds new Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at the start of a reception in the East Room of The White House in Washington Wednesday.
President Barack Obama applauds new Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at the start of a reception in the East Room of The White House in Washington Wednesday.
Alex Brandon, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama rejoiced Wednesday in the ascendancy of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, saying her achievement will be an inspiration for generations.

"When Justice Sotomayor put her hand on that Bible and took that oath ... we came yet another step to the more perfect union that we all seek," Obama told a White House reception for Sotomayor.

The ceremony was packed with family and friends of Sotomayor, who has become the first Hispanic and third woman on the high court bench. Lawmakers, issue advocates, Hispanic community leaders and others who helped shepherd her confirmation through the Senate came to watch as she appeared with the president for remarks.

"While this is Justice Sotomayor's achievement, the result of her ability and determination," Obama said, "this moment is not just about her. It's about every child who will grow up thinking to him- or herself, 'If Sonia Sotomayor can make it, then maybe I can too.' "

Following Obama at the lectern, Sotomayor spoke emotionally about wending her way from a modest background to the highest court in the land. She grew up in public housing projects in South Bronx, N.Y., before getting an Ivy League education and starting her legal career.

"It is our nation's faith in a more perfect union that allows a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx to stand here now," she said, a line that earned her huge applause and a standing ovation from the audience.

"I am struck again today by the wonder of my own life and the life we in America are so privileged to lead," Sotomayor said. "I am deeply humbled by the sacred responsibility of upholding our laws and safeguarding the rights and freedoms set forth in our Constitution. I ask not just my family and friends, but I ask all Americans to wish me divine guidance and wisdom in administering my new office."

Two fellow members of the Supreme Court — Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens — attended the event. Obama joked that they and their colleagues were surely ready to give Sotomayor "some good tips."

Sotomayor was sworn in over the weekend. She was a federal judge for 17 years before Obama nominated her in May to replace retired Justice David Souter. The president and his wife, Michelle, hosted a reception after the remarks.