Obama's Pick, Sonia Sotomayor, Reflects America
When Supreme Court Justice David Souter announced his planned retirement, the pressure was on President Obama to add a second woman to a bench.
At the same time, Obama was encouraged to pick the first Hipanic justice.
He did both, and a good deal more.
Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit as his first appointment to the high court, is to made at the White House this morning.
While much will be made of the fact that Obama has chosen a woman of Puerto Rican background to serve on a court that until the 1960s was made up entirely of white man, the president has, as well, chosen a jurist whose specific experience will make her a key player on a court that, in ocming years, will be taking on more and more cases involving financial and economic issues.
Judge Sotomayor's 11 years of service on the federal appeals bench (as an appointee of Bill Clinton) have been served just a few blocks from Wall Street in Manhattan, as were her six years as a federal judge (as an appointee of George H.W. Bush as the recommendation of former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan).
"As the top federal appeals court in the nation's commercial center," the New York Times notes, "the court is known in particular for its expertise in corporate and securities law."
The daughter of a factory worker who died when she was a child, Sotomayor -- who diagnosed with diabetes as an eight year old -- was raised by her mother, a nurse at a methadone clinic. Inspired by "Perry Mason" television programs, Sotomayor graduated from Princeton University summa cum laude in 1976 and then from attended Yale Law School, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal.
Before her appointment to the federal bench, Sotomayor as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan,working with D.A. Robert Morgenthau, who developed a reputation for policing -- or, at least trying to police -- Wall Street.
Obama picked Sotomayor from a slate of women finalists that reportedly included Judge Diane P. Wood of Chicago, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Solicitor General Elena Kagan.
Sotomayor was not the most liberal of the prospective jurists, but that did not matter to conservatives who have been preparing for a fight. Wendy Long, counsel to the right's Judicial Confirmation Network, came out swinging: "Judge Sotomayor is a liberal judicial activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important than the law as written. She thinks that judges should dictate policy, and that one's sex, race, and ethnicity ought to affect the decisions one renders from the bench."
That's a reference to a case involving applications for promotions within the New Haven, Connecticut fire department, in which Sotomayor was a member of a judicial panel that objected to tests used to evaluate candidates for promotion when no minority candidates ranked at the top of the list of those who took the test.
That white male jurists agreed with Sotomayor will be lost on her critics. But her record is generally seen as being very much in the mainstream of legal debates about diversity and affirmative action.
The swift strike at this nominee provides a reminder of how important this confirmation battle will be to conservatives, who see the fight to block Obama's first high-court pick as essential to the renewal of their sagging political fortunes.
But Sotomayor will have plenty of allies.
Even before the nomination was announced, National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy announced that NOW would launch a "Confirm Her" campaign to ensure swift confirmation of the nominee.
"Nominated to serve as the third woman and first Hispanic on the Supreme Court in the history of the United States, Judge Sotomayor will serve the nation with distinction. She brings a lifelong commitment to equality, justice and opportunity, as well as the respect of her peers, unassailable integrity, and a keen intellect informed by experience. President Obama said he wanted a justice with 'towering intellect' and a 'common touch' and he found both in Judge Sotomayor," said Gandy. "What more do women want? We want a swift confirmation in the U.S. Senate, and Associate Justice Sotomayor to join Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Court before the Senate's August recess."
© 2009 The Nation