WASHINGTON - (AP) - President Barack Obama named federal appealsjudge Sonia Sotomayor as the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Courtjustice on Tuesday, praising her as "an inspiring woman" withboth the intellect and compassion to interpret the Constitutionwisely.

Obama said Sotomayor has more experience as a judge than anycurrent member of the high court had when nominated, adding she hasearned the "respect of colleagues on the bench," the admirationof lawyers who appear in her court and "the adoration of herclerks."

"My heart today is bursting with gratitude," Sotomayor saidfrom the White House podium moments after being introduced byObama.

If confirmed by the Senate, she would join Justice Ruth BaderGinsburg as the second woman on the current court, the third inhistory. She would succeed retiring Justice David Souter.

Obama and Sotomayor both noted the historic nature of theappointment. The president said a Hispanic on the court would markanother step toward the goal of "equal justice under law."

Sotomayor, 54, said she grew up in poor surroundings and neverdreamed she would one day be nominated for the highest court.

Obama has said he hopes she can take her place before thejustices begin their new term in October.

Democrats hold a large majority in the Senate, and barring theunexpected, Sotomayor's confirmation should be assured.

The Senate Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky,issued a statement that said: "Senate Republicans will treat JudgeSotomayor fairly. But we will thoroughly examine her record toensure she understands that the role of a jurist in our democracyis to apply the law evenhandedly, despite their own feelings orpersonal or political preferences."

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