President Barack Obama announced today that he will nominate 2nd Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace retiring Justice David Souter on the United States Supreme Court. If confirmed, she will become the first Latina, and the third woman overall, to serve on the Court.
Judge Sotomayor has been mentioned as the top possibility for the nomination ever since Justice Souter announced his retirement at the end of the Supreme Court's current term. While some observers felt that Elena Kagan, the Solicitor General, might get the nod, or that the President might select a more obscure figure, Sotomayor's name has always been widely considered to be at the top of the list. Sotomayor is of Puerto Rican descent, and she was raised in a Bronx
housing project by her mother after her father died when she was 9.
She attended Princeton University, then Yale Law School, where she was
the editor of the Yale Law Journal. She worked as a prosecutor and in
private practice before President George H.W. Bush nominated her to the
federal district court in 1991 and President Bill Clinton elevated her
to the 2nd Circuit in 1997.
President Obama has famously stated that he wanted to select a justice
with "empathy," and he clearly feels that Sotomayor's background gives
her this qualification. This emphasis on empathy, however, might fuel
a Republican challenge to the nomination. Immediately after the
President's announcement, two top Senate Republicans - Senate Minority
Leader Mitch McConnell (R - KY) and Sen.
John Cornyn (R - TX), a member of Senate Judiciary Committee - issued
statements admonishing that Supreme Court justices must uphold the law
regardless of their own "personal politics, feelings, and preferences," as Sen. Cornyn put it.
Sotomayor has ruled on many controversial issues - including a New
Haven affirmative action case currently before the Supreme Court - all
of which are likely fodder for confirmation debate. She has also made
statements which, combined with President Obama's desire for an
empathetic justice, could lead Republicans to challenge her as a
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R - AL), the ranking Republican on the Senate
Judiciary Committee has already expressed his doubt that the nomination
will clear the Judiciary Committee in time for a vote before the
Senate's traditional August recess. This shows that the Senate
Republicans may be gearing up for a confirmation battle.
It's difficult to see how they could win, though. The Democrats have a
strong majority in the Judiciary Committee, and they are one vote short
of a fillibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the full Senate.
Some commentators have asserted that Sotomayor is a divisive presence
within the 2nd Circuit, that she posseses a difficult personality to
work with, and that her opinions do not rise to the level of juristic
excellence necessary for a Supreme Court justice - all issues that are
likely to come up during the confirmation process. Other writers have
dismissed these claims as character assasination.
Personally, I hope that she is brash and unyielding. The conservative
wing of the Court has Scalia - why shouldn't the liberal wing have
someone equally abrasive?
See Also: The President Will Nominate Sonia Sotomayor (SCOTUSblog) Obama names Sotomayor as Supreme Court nominee (CNN.com) Obama Selects Sotomayor for Court (NYTimes.com)