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“I think he feels comfortable in asking her to describe the way she interprets, to describe her views on that. He felt comfortable that they shared a philosophy on that interpretation,” Mr. Gibbs said.

He said Mr. Obama and Judge Sotomayor discussed both unenumerated rights and what constitutes settled law.

In 2005, President George W. Bush found himself having to defend his own Supreme Court nominee, Harriet Miers, against complaints from conservatives and pro-life activists who said she lacked a paper trail to prove her conservative credentials.

Miss Miers eventually withdrew her nomination.

Mr. Donohue was not alone among conservative Catholics in calling for pro-lifers to hold their fire.

“My concern is that the people in Obama’s on-deck circle are much worse,” said Steve Dillard, an adviser to the 2008 presidential campaign of Mike Huckabee and founder of the site Catholics Against Rudy. He called Judge Sotomayor “the best of the worst.”

“Do you really want to win this battle only to get Diane Wood?” said Mr. Dillard, a lawyer and former clerk at the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where Judge Wood, whom he called a brilliant radical, sits.

Beyond abortion, Mr. Donohue said, he saw in Judge Sotomayor’s record a history of backing religious liberty claims.

“She said it was wrong to prohibit a menorah on public ground; I like that. She talks about the religious rights of prisoners; I like that too,” he said.

Mr. Donohue also mentioned a more personal angle: his identification with New York’s Puerto Rican community, from which Judge Sotomayor comes. He mentioned leading the Puerto Rican Day Parade at St. Lucy’s Catholic Church in Spanish Harlem and taking “groups of 15, 16 kids to Yankee Stadium.”

“All these things put together, I’m gonna quietly root for her,” said Mr. Donohue, who has never met the nominee.

Mr. Donohue also suggested that opposing Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation would not be wise in the short term, in terms of who the alternative nominee might be.

“I am looking at this pool of likely competitors, and, far and away, Sotomayor is the best candidate,” he said, adding that making too big a political fight over the Sotomayor pick “might look like we have an agenda that will not look good to many in the Latino community.”

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.