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So It's Sotomayor

If the Supreme Court were Churchill Downs, I'd be heading over to the pay window right now, having put my money on 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be President Obama's nominee to replace Justice David H. Souter. I doubt I would've collected much, though, given that she seemed to be the odds-on favorite of just about every pundit who handicapped the field. As far back as February, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, in a Fios-sponsored appearance at LegalTech New York, predicted Sotomayor.

So you won't need sharp ears to hear it as the blogosphere sighs a collective, "We told you so!" Still, Sotomayor was the favorite because she deserved to be. A well-qualified appellate judge, she would put another woman on the high court bench. More significantly, she would be the Supreme Court's first Hispanic justice. Given that Hispanics make up roughly 15 percent of the U.S. population but zero percent of the Supreme Court, it is high time for a Hispanic justice.

President Obama made the announcement of Sotomayor's nomination this morning. The 54-year-old jurist is the daughter of Puerto Rican parents and grew up in public housing in the Bronx. Her father died when she was 9 and her mother worked six days a week to put her through Catholic school. She went to Princeton University and then Yale Law School, where she was editor of the law journal. President Bush nominated her to the federal district court in 1991 and President Clinton named her to the appeals court in 1997.

Lawyer and blogger Elie Mystal questions whether a nominee's race or ethnicity really matter. "Why does it make people of a disaffected class feel better when one of their own reaches a position of special prominence?" he asks. Far more important than identity is a nominee's jurisprudential ideology, Mystal argues. "It doesn’t make me feel better to have a person that looks like me on the Court. It makes me feel better to have a person that can match wits with Scalia and Roberts for the next generation."

If considered in a vacuum apart from ideology, race, ethnicity or gender should not decide a nomination. But I agree with the New York Times when it says that Sotomayor "would add a different complexion to the panel, fulfilling the president's stated desire to add diversity of background to the nation's highest tribunal." That is not a complexion defined by skin color but by life experiences -- and the life experiences of a Hispanic woman who grew up poor in the Bronx would add a dimension to the court it sorely lacks and has never had before.

And then there is the simple matter of symbolism. The Supreme Court is our nation's final arbiter of justice. It will never be and should never be a representative cross section of the population. But when a significant portion of the population is at last able to see itself reflected by someone who sits on the court, they are, perhaps, reassured that the court is a place where, even for them, justice does prevail.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on May 26, 2009 at 11:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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