WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama nominated Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, selecting a woman who would be the court's first Latino to replace retiring Justice David Souter.

Obama's choice of the liberal Sotomayor, a 54-year-old judge on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, was unlikely to change the ideological balance of the high court because Souter, 69, was part of the panel's liberal wing.

The court, which decides controversial cases on abortion and the death penalty, has been closely divided on many contentious issues, with a five-member conservative majority and four dissenting liberal justices. Sotomayor was expected to be a reliable liberal vote.

Conservatives quickly moved to criticize the choice, but political analysts said that, barring an unexpected scandal, there was little chance the nomination could be derailed. Supreme Court justices serve for life but their nomination must be approved by the U.S. Senate, where Obama's fellow Democrats have a majority.

I have decided to nominate an inspiring woman who I believe will make a great justice, Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the great state of New York, Obama said in a White House event announcing his decision.

Sotomayor, a child of Puerto Rican parents, is most widely known for her decision as a trial judge in 1995 to bar Major League Baseball from using replacement players, ending a nearly year-long strike.

Some say that Judge Sotomayor saved baseball, Obama told the White House crowd.

Based on her rulings as a trial judge and then a U.S. appeals court judge in New York, Sotomayor's views would in many respects be similar those of outgoing Justice Souter.

As an appeals court judge, she has often sided with plaintiffs in cases involving race, sex, age and disability discrimination and has ruled against businesses in cases on environmental law and securities litigation. The two business rulings were later reversed by the Supreme Court.

Hoping to show a consultative approach, Obama had been meeting with key Democratic and Republican members of the Senate as he weighed a short list of mostly women to replace Souter.

Obama interviewed Sotomayor on Thursday at the White House and called her on Monday to ask her to take the Supreme Court position, a White House official said on condition of anonymity.