Face-to-face, one-on-one in the Oval Office, Sonia Sotomayor leapt from the only candidate of four finalists not well-known to President Barack Obama to his top choice for an open seat on the Supreme Court, administration officials say.
Obama emerged from an hourlong private meeting Thursday inclined toward picking Sotomayor to succeed retiring Justice David Souter, but he said he wanted to take the weekend to think about it, White House officials told reporters.
The pivotal meeting, part of Sotomayor's seven-hour visit to the White House that day, capped Obama's interviews with the four finalists, White House officials said. According to their timeline, Obama interviewed federal appellate judge Diane Wood and Solicitor General Elena Kagan on May 19, followed by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Sotomayor two days later.
Obama had taught Wood at the University of Chicago and had appointed Kagan and Napolitano himself. Sotomayor, officials said, was the only one of the four he had never met.
As White House officials related Obama's account of the meeting, Sotomayor and the president discussed the law, the Constitution and her view of the role of judges.
On Friday, Obama let his team know that he was inclined toward Sotomayor but wanted to give it some more thought. Over the weekend, she spoke by telephone with Vice President Joe Biden, the White House said.
About 8 p.m. EDT Monday, Obama made his decision: Sotomayor was his pick. From his study in the White House residence, Obama called to give her the news and followed up with calls to the other three women.
Tuesday morning, Obama phoned Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. He also reached Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who was traveling in Afghanistan, and Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the panel.
With gabby senators now aware of the pick, Obama's choice would not stay secret for long. News bulletins moved just after 8 a.m. EDT.
Just before 10:30 a.m., Obama, Biden and Sotomayor strolled into the White House's East Room to thunderous applause from the nominee's family members and supporters.
"I'm excited, too," Obama said. "After completing this exhaustive process, I've decided to nominate an inspiring woman who I believe will make a great justice, Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the great state of New York."