On May 6, 2003, by a unanimous vote of the U.S. Senate, Altonaga became the nation's first female Cuban-American federal judge. President George W. Bush personally nominated her, sidestepping a list of South Florida candidates forwarded by the state's two senators, Bill Nelson and Bob Graham. The move provoked cries of foul. It's clear Bush wanted a Cuban female in the position, and in Altonaga he found a winner. The Yale-educated Coral Gables resident was a career prosecutor with the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office until she became a county court judge in 1996 and then circuit court judge three years later. Even Nelson and Graham, two Democrats, conceded the point of her qualifications and ended up backing the president's pick.