WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama pushed back on Saturday at conservative critics of his Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, accusing them of twisting her words to score political points.
There are, of course, some in Washington who are attempting to draw old battle lines and playing the usual political games, pulling a few comments out of context to paint a distorted picture of Judge Sotomayor's record, Obama said in his weekly radio address.
But I am confident that these efforts will fail, he said.
Born to Puerto Rican parents who moved to New York during World War Two, Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court and the third woman. If confirmed by the Senate, she would join Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the only other woman on the court.
Obama's nomination on Tuesday of the 54-year-old federal appeals court judge to the high court touched off a battle between conservative and liberal interest groups.
The ideological balance of the court -- which decides hot-button social issues such as abortion -- is unlikely to change as a result of the selection of Sotomayor, a liberal. She would replace retiring Justice David Souter, who is also a liberal.
But conservatives have seized on some of Sotomayor's past legal decisions and comments to depict her as a judicial activist who would seek to make government policy from the bench rather than strictly interpret the Constitution.
Critics highlighted her 2005 comment that the federal appeals court is where policy is made and a 2001 remark that a Latina judge would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.
Conservatives such as former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich accused Sotomayor of racism based on the 2001 comment.
Obama and his aides said on Friday that comment was taken out of context and that Sotomayor merely meant to make the point that varied life experiences can give judges valuable insights into the cases they analyze.
But the White House also said comment was poorly worded and that Sotomayor wished she had phrased it differently.
In his radio address, Obama highlighted Sotomayor's background as a former assistant district attorney, litigator and later a trial judge.
But Obama, who has said he wanted to nominate someone to the high court who would bring empathy and a common touch, also talked of the personal challenges Sotomayor has faced, including spending part of her childhood living in a public housing project and dealing with the death of her father at age nine.
Her achievements are all the more impressive when you consider what she had to overcome in order to achieve them, Obama said.
Conservatives have taken issue with Obama's emphasis on empathy as a criteria for serving on the court, saying judges should base their decisions on the legal merits of cases and set emotions aside.
With Obama's Democrats commanding a 59-seat majority in the 100-member Senate, Republicans are unlikely to gather the necessary votes to block her nomination.
But Senate Republicans conceivably could delay a vote until after the August congressional recess, allowing more time for opposition to her candidacy to build.