Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who has been nominated by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Supreme Court, begins her confirmation hearings on Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sotomayor, a New York-based federal appeals court judge, is widely expected to win approval from the Democratic-controlled Senate, assuming no bombshell disclosures come out during the hearings, which are expected to last at least several days.

If confirmed, Sotomayor, 55, would become the first Hispanic justice and only the third woman on the nation's highest court. She would replace Justice David Souter, who retired at the end of June.

Following are some key facts about Sotomayor's background and rulings:


* Sotomayor was nominated as a trial judge in New York by President George Bush in 1991 in a deal with the state's U.S. senators. She was elevated to the appeals court in 1998 by President Bill Clinton.

She made headlines as a trial judge in 1995 with an order preventing Major League Baseball from using replacement players, ending a nearly year-long strike.

Before becoming a judge, she had been a prosecutor in New York for five years and then entered private law practice in 1984.


* A child of Puerto Rican parents, she grew up in a housing project in the Bronx in New York City. She excelled as a student and graduated from Princeton University and then Yale Law School. Sotomayor, an avid fan of the New York Yankees baseball team, is divorced.


* Sotomayor is expected to be a reliable liberal vote on the nine-member court, which has been closely split, with five conservatives and four liberal justices, on many issues.

She sided with New Haven, Connecticut, ruling as part of a three-judge panel against white firefighters and allowing the city to throw out a promotion exam because it yielded no acceptable black candidates.

The Supreme Court on June 26 overturned her ruling by a 5-4 vote. It held the city violated the federal civil rights law and it set a new standard for considering such cases.

Republican opponents of Sotomayor plan to cite the Supreme Court's decision during the hearings and plan to call as witnesses two of the firefighters who had sued. Democratic senators have defended Sotomayor and said she was following existing precedent at the time.


During the hearings Republicans also are expected to question Sotomayor about her comments in 2001 indicating that Hispanic women may decide cases better than white men.
Sotomayor in remarks at the University of California, Berkeley, said she disagreed with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's view that a wise old man and a wise old woman would reach the same conclusion on a case.

Sotomayor said she would hope a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life. The White House said Sotomayor used a poor choice of words but said critics had taken her comment out of context.


* As an appeals court judge, Sotomayor has not written any major rulings dealing with abortion but has decided cases involving race, sex, age and disability discrimination, often ruling for the plaintiffs.

She wrote a major environmental law ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency could not use a cost-benefit analysis in regulating cooling water intake structures at power plants to protect aquatic life. That ruling was reversed by the Supreme Court earlier this year.

Her views are expected to be close to those of Souter.

(Reporting by James Vicini; Editing by Bill Trott)