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Latinos are rooting for historic nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court

By Ingrid Marie Rivera, La Prensa Correspondent  

With the confirmation hearings set to begin on July 13, 2009, Latinos said they hope history is made and Federal Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor (2nd Circuit) is confirmed as the first Hispanic U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

If confirmed, she would be the third woman to serve on the nation’s highest court, replacing retiring Justice David Souter.


Judge Sonia Sotomayor

“It’s about time that we had a Hispanic on the (U.S.) Supreme Court and she has the credentials,” said U.S. Rep. Pedro Pierluisi, (D-PR) [Puerto Rico resident commissioner and representative to the U.S. Congress].

Pierluisi wrote a letter to President Barack Obama in May asking him to consider Judge Sotomayor as an “outstanding choice.”

Pierluisi said he is certain that with Sotomayor’s educational and professional background, she should and is very likely to be confirmed.

“I expect that she will be confirmed,” Pierluisi said “I’m sure she'll do very well (during her confirmation hearings). I'm sure she'll be sharp; that's her reputation,” he said.

Her “humble beginnings”
Her journey from “humble beginnings” to being nominated to the nation's highest court has inspired many Latinos.

Sotomayor grew up in a Bronx, New York housing project with blue-collar Puerto Rican parents. Her father died when she was nine, leaving her mother to raise her and her younger brother alone. Despite the limited income and the diabetes she developed as a child, Sotomayor went on to graduate from two prestigious universities: Princeton and Yale.

Natalie Soto
, an Oberlin middle school Spanish teacher and 1998 Puerto Rican Lorain International Festival Queen, said Sotomayor’s nomination has served as a great inspiration for her and her children.

“It’s showing other women that we can accomplish many things, and just because we may be from a different culture group doesn’t mean that we're not capable of doing what others do,” Soto said.

She continued “As a teacher, you see many students who come in and feel that they are inferior because of their race and it just shows that it doesn’t matter. If you put your heart into whatever it is that you want to do, you can accomplish anything,” Soto said.

Natalie Soto, an Oberlin middle school Spanish teacher and 1998 Puerto Rican Lorain International Festival Queen

Richard Romero, Chair for the Ohio Commission on Latino Affairs, said he is “extremely proud” that a Latina was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“When I hear her name I just think of pride,” Romero said “I think the future leaders of tomorrow are [going to be] Latinas. I have two young daughters that are blowing me away with accomplishments,” he said.

A “highly qualified” judge

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said at the Lorain International Festival Breakfast last month that Sotomayor has had more experience as a judge than anyone nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court in the last 100 years.

The moderate has 13 years of experience as a prosecutor in Manhattan and in her private law practice.

Her first judgeship came in 1992 when appointed by President George H.W. Bush to the district of New York where she served as a federal trial judge.

She was appointed in 1998 by President Bill Clinton as a federal appeals judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

Sotomayor “had something that you don’t see a lot in Washington,” Brown said “She had a real humility to her and she will be a terrific Supreme Court Justice. I like her empathy. I like her humility. I like the fact that she remembers where she came from; I think that’s going to make her a better Supreme Court Justice than some others we’ve had in the past...So it’ll be an exciting day...when we all vote on confirming Miss Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court,” he said.

With that breadth of experience, however, comes the many oral arguments and written opinions she has authored that have been heavily scrutinized.

Some Republican senators have questioned whether she is a “judicial activist,” and some conservatives like former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich called Sotomayor a “racist.” Gingrich later backed from his harsh criticism but said her comments were “unacceptable.”

In the 2008 ruling, she along with two other 2nd Circuit judges, upheld the rejection of a lawsuit by primarily white firefighters claiming race discrimination. The firefighters claimed they were victims of racial discrimination when the results of a promotion exam they had passed were discarded because few minorities were eligible for the promotion. But the three-judge panel’s ruling was recently overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

When asked if her ruling would hurt her during the confirmation hearings, Pierluisi said “To say she’s racist because of that ruling, that would be stretching it. That’s not valid criticism and should not have any significant barring. I hope that doesn’t happen; It would not be good for America,” he said.

Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera said he supports Obama’s nomination for more reasons than simply because she is Latina.

For Rivera, a good and qualified judge is someone who understands the limitations of the judicial role but has sufficient compassion when applying the law, and even understands “the law can be wrong and sometimes needs to be changed.”

“I believe that you shouldn’t have an activist judge that will use that position to change or enact laws but you need a certain level of empathy and compassion when you look at these individual cases.

I notice that’s what she brings to the table,” Rivera said.

He also said he supports the judge that he hopes when applying the law “understands the complexity of being a police officer on the street.”

Her appointment “will be a tremendous boost to the Hispanic community,” Rivera said “And having another female on the court is also a positive thing. I’m hoping she will be confirmed; she will be a real asset,” Rivera said.

Editor’s Note: If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Judge Sotomayor would be the first “Hispanic” and the first “Latina” to be a Supreme Court Justice. Associate Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo (1932-1938 term) has an ancestry that has been traced to Portugal and, therefore, he qualifies as the first “Latino.”






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