President Barack Obama made history when he nominated Sonia Sotomayor, a federal appeals court judge from the Bronx, to the Supreme Court.
If confirmed, Sotomayor, 54, would be the first Hispanic to serve on the high court. Hispanic advocacy groups and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which had promoted Sotomayor’s candidacy, applaud Obama’s choice.
"Today is a monumental day for Latinos," National Council of La Raza President Janet Murguia said yesterday in a statement. "The president wanted a justice who is not only a respected jurist but also understands how the law affects the lives of everyday people. Judge Sotomayor embodies those qualities."
Henry Solano, interim president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund, called Obama’s choice "a historic, significant, and meaningful nomination." In a release, Solano said, "At a time when the Hispanic community is at the heart of a number of highly politicized issues and faces attacks on our civil liberties, having a Latino on the Supreme Court provides a crucial perspective that will inform the court’s consideration of such cases."
Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, D-New York, who heads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, agrees. "Judge Sotomayor brings with her the experience, discipline, integrity, commitment, and intellectual prowess she has cultivated throughout an extensive career," Velasquez said in a statement. "She has consistently demonstrated a balanced, clear-minded respect for our laws and our Constitution."
Sotomayor, who served for more than a decade on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 2nd District, in New York, would replace retiring Justice David Souter, 69, becoming the second youngest justice—Chief Justice John Roberts is six months younger—and tilting the court somewhat younger. She would be the second woman and the sixth Roman Catholic on the current court.
Obama called Sotomayor an "inspiring woman" who has a "rigorous intellect" and a "mastery of the law." She graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, attended Yale Law School, and was editor of the Yale Law Journal.
It was a Republican, President George H.W. Bush, who first appointed Sotomayor to the federal bench. He nominated her to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1991.
In 1997, former President Bill Clinton appointed her to her current seat—but not without a fight. Concerned her appointment would make her a likely Supreme Court candidate, Republicans held up her confirmation for more than a year.
A political fight is already brewing about Sotomayor’s nomination.
Conservatives have criticized her as a liberal judicial activist, although her supporters say she has a record of mainstream opinions.
It’s unlikely Sotomayor’s opponents will have enough votes in the Senate to block her confirmation, but she will face tough scrutiny in her confirmation hearings.
One opinion her opponents are likely to focus on is her vote, as part of a panel, to uphold a decision to throw out a set of New Haven, Connecticut, fire department promotion tests because no minority candidates scored high on those tests. White firefighters who did well have appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Sotomayor’s nomination would be treated "fairly," but Republicans would "thoroughly examine her record."
Legal analysts say Sotomayor has usually sided with plaintiffs in many discrimination cases concerning minorities and people with disabilities. She has interpreted the federal Americans with Disabilities Act—which affects many older Americans—broadly.
Sotomayor has a mixed record on age discrimination cases. In a dissenting opinion in a 2006 case, she wrote that the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act did not protect a 70-year-old Methodist minister from the church’s mandatory retirement policy.