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The Senate's top Democrat praised federal judge Sonia Sotomayor Tuesday as an extraordinarily well-qualified Supreme Court nominee whose background as an "underdog" appeals to Americans.


"We have the whole package here," said Sen. Harry Reid, seated beside Sotomayor before the two met in his Capitol office. He called her life story "compelling."

"America identifies with the underdog, and you've been an underdog many times in your life, but always the top dog," Reid, D-Nev., said of Sotomayor, the New York-born daughter of Puerto Rican parents who would be the first Hispanic and the third woman on the high court.

Citing her Princeton and Yale education and long experience as a lawyer and judge, Reid said: "We could not have anyone better qualified."

The visit was the start of a daylong schedule of meet-and-greets with Republicans and Democrats designed to let senators get to know President Barack Obama's nominee before they debate confirming her.

Sotomayor was also meeting with the top Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and leaders of the Judiciary Committee, Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and senior GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

Republican senators have already begun to question remarks Sotomayor has made in the past about how her life experiences influence her judicial decisions. In turn, Democrats have defended her as a fair and unbiased judge, and all sides say they are eager to talk to her privately and question her in public hearings to come.


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