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Sonia Sotomayor confirmed as the first Hispanic Justice

By Ingrid Marie Rivera , La Prensa Correspondent
With Commentary

Latinos throughout the nation and on the island of Puerto Rico have called the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic U.S. Supreme Court Justice, a source of great pride and inspiration. They have called her a barrier-breaker, setting the path for other Latinos to follow.

“Her nomination and confirmation from the perspective of Hispanics, it has electrified and energized our community,” said José C. Feliciano, Cleveland attorney and chairman of the Hispanic Roundtable.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor

“I think her success is the success of all Puerto Ricans and all Hispanics,” Feliciano of Yauco, Puerto Rico, said. “Now we have an example of the fulfillment of America's promise to Hispanics. It’s a terrific day not just for Hispanics but for all America,” he said.

Federal Appeals Court Judge Sotomayor, 55, of Puerto Rican descent, was confirmed with a 68-31 vote by the U.S. Senate Aug. 6, 2009, becoming the first Hispanic, third woman, and the 111th associate justice to the U.S. Supreme Court. She received unanimous support from the Democrats but split the Republican senators, with only nine approving and 31 opposing.  

From a South Bronx housing-barrio, Sotomayor has risen to the nation’s highest court, and Latinos have watched the process very closely, tuning into her confirmation hearings and swearing-in ceremony, on August 8, 2009. Some Latinos cheered her name and participated in parties around the nation and in Puerto Rico.

But in some parts of Puerto Rico the excitement has been somewhat subdued because of the swine flu, said Eyleen Cortes, an accounting graduate from Universidad InterAmericana de Puerto Rico. Cortes, mother of a 7-year-old daughter and 3 year-old son, said besides some talk about Sotomayor and coverage in the news, the atmosphere in Ponce, Puerto Rico has been rather quiet.

But she said she, like other Boricuas, shares great pride for Sotomayor. “Now she better do her job right,” she joked.

Las mujeres estamos mas capacitadas para llevar posiciones importantes. El hombre se esta quedando atras,” Cortes joked. She said women are more prepared for important positions today and men are staying behind. Puerto Rico es una isla chiquita pero hay mucho talento,” she said.

María González, president of Club Taino based in Toledo, was delighted and told La Prensa, “The confirmation of Judge Sotomayor is a triumph and an inspiration to all women, all Latinas, and all minorities.”
Mary Santiago, Lorain commissioner for the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs, said she “had goose bumps” when watching the television broadcast of the U.S. Senate vote.
“She serves as a great role model for women and everyone in general,” said Santiago, a Democrat, and mother of three daughters and one son all pursuing higher education, “The fact that they confirmed her, it says that they have picked the best person for this [position], and that is wonderful [that she’s Latina]. I’m very proud. My children can look at this and say ‘anything can happen’—just go to school,” said Santiago, who has family ties in Piletas Lares, Puerto Rico.

Sotomayor graduated from two prestigious universities: Princeton and Yale. 

Over a three-decade career, the moderate judge has worked at nearly every level of the judicial system.

Cleveland Councilman Joe Santiago of the 14 Ward, said he was very excited with Sotomayor’s confirmation.

“I’ve been calling to see if there are any parties but there aren’t any here,” Santiago joked “It’s just awesome; we’re ready to explode here,” he said.

“I think our doors are open now. We have to reach for the stars; we have to educate our youth so that they can get into key positions. Education is the key to success,” he said.

Latinos have said that Sotomayor’s nomination has shed great light onto the Puerto Rican community. 

Joe Santiago, a Democrat, with family ties to Yauco and San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, agreed.

“It earns our community much more respect and it brings us out onto the forefront,” he said. “We’re here and we want our voices heard,” he said.


La Prensa Commentary: Latinos vocalize pride but question the Republican lock-step opposition

While all Democrats praised Sotomayor as a qualified judge with an inspirational background [Senator Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, was not present for the vote because of illness but supported Judge Sotomayor.], the majority of Republican opponents labeled her a judicial activist who would reinterpret the law to fit with more liberal political beliefs. Republicans also expressed concern with her position on abortion and gun laws, giving no specifics.  

But, to their credit, nine Republicans broke away from the GOP in supporting Sotomayor including: Ohio Sen. George Voinovich and Florida’s Sen. Mel Martínez. [Martínez subsequently announced his resignation from the Senate.]

Additional Republicans to vote for Sotomayor included: Kit Bond (Missouri), Lamar Alexander (Tennessee), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Dick Lugar (Indiana), Judd Gregg (New Hampshire), Olympia Snowe (Maine), and Susan Collins (Maine).

As Latinos are the largest and fastest-growing minority in the United States translating into greater voting power, many have questioned whether the Republican opposition to Sotomayor would further alienate Latinos from the GOP, already smarting by the Republican-led construction of a double-layered wall separating the United States from México; and immense immigrant-bashing led by Republicans Tom Tancredo (retired Congressman, Colorado) and James Sensenbrenner (U.S. Congress, Wisconsin). 

Of the more than 45 million Latinos in the U.S. today, a significant amount consider themselves Democrats and helped President Barack Obama win the presidential elections.

For a list of Republican Senators that voted against Sotomayor, go to: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/07/31/us/politics/0731-sotomayor-vote.html 


Mary Santiago and Feliciano said they were surprised Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) voted against Sotomayor.

“I don’t understand why (the Republicans) did that,” Feliciano said “I couldn’t understand why McCain voted against her. She’s not a flaming liberal; she’s a moderate judge. It was silly for Republicans not to give her a bigger margin of victory,” he said.

Diana Marrero-Pinto, director of housing services for the Lorain County Community Action Agency, said if the Republicans had stalled her confirmation, it would have been based on “petty things.”

“Even if she wasn’t Latina, she came from a housing project, lost her father, had diabetes, and yet managed to graduate summa cum laude. You wonder what exactly the Republicans are thinking,” she said.

Marrero-Pinto, a Democrat and with family ties to Arecibo and Bayamón, said the growing Latino population and their desires cannot be ignored.

“It’s going to get to the point where we will no longer be the largest minority but possibly the majority,” said Marrero-Pinto “how can you act like we’re not a vital force in the United States?”

Sotomayor “overcame so much and there was no stopping her,” she said.





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