Supreme Court nominee gets high grades here

Attorney Ira Neil Richards lost the only case he ever argued before Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

But the Philadelphia lawyer came away with a lasting admiration of the federal appellate judge nominated this morning to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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President Barack Obama announces federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor as his nominee for the Supreme Court today in an East Room ceremony of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais )

"I walked out of the courtroom having a really good impression of Judge Sotomayor," Richards said of the 2003 class-action case he argued before a three-judge appellate panel in 2003. "I found her to be open-minded and probing, and I felt that she listened to me. In a judge, that isall you can ask for."

President Obama's nomination of Sotomayor, a product of the Bronx housing projects who would be the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, drew several favorable reviews this morning from local lawyers and officials.

"She's exactly what President Obama was looking for, a fantastic choice in regard to her background as a lawyer, as a judge, and in her personal life story," said Kenneth I. Trujillo, a former city solicitor who was part of Obama's transition team.

"The symbolic nature of it is secondary, but important," said Trujillo, chair of the board of directors of Congreso de Latinos Unidos. "It sends a powerful message to Latinos across the country, not only that we are an important part of the makeup of the nation, but also part of the fabric that will be making some of the country's most important decisions."

In Washington, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa), said that Obama "has chosen wisely and well" in selecting Sotomayor. Fattah said she "brilliantly meets the President's markers - 'intellectual firepower with. . .the common touch,' and yes, empathy with lives of ordinary Americans."

In choosing a woman of Puerto Rican heritage who was raised in public housing, Fattah said, Obama has acted "to reshape the high court so that it looks more and acts more like this great nation it serves."

Of the three judges who heard the case he argued, Richards said, Sotomayor was by far the most active questioner, which he considered a reflection of the depth of her preparation.

"I remember putting my notes on the podium, and before I could even say my name, she was asking me questions," he said. "But she was challenging me in a thoughtful way, which showed me she was well-prepared, and that she was giving me a chance to persuade her."

Burt M. Rublin, another Philadelphia lawyer, had a similar experience in an NFL anti-trust case he helped prepare in 2004.

While the panel's decision - Sotomayor wrote the opinion - went against his side, Rublin said, "I was tremendously impressed by her intellect, her questions and her preparation. I think she will make an excellent justice."