Sotomayor confirmed as first Hispanic Supreme Court justice

Sonia Sotomayor, who once suggested that a wise Latina would make a better judge than a white man, was confirmed yesterday as the first Hispanic justice on the US Supreme Court.

Judge Sotomayor won the vote in the US Senate by 68-31, with nine Republicans crossing the aisle to vote with the majority Democrats. The decision reflected the growing power of Hispanics in America and the commitment of Barack Obama to break down ethnic and gender barriers.

Ms Sotomayor, 55, will be only the third woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.

President Obama called the confirmation of his first Supreme Court nominee a “wonderful day for America”. He said that the Senate vote to confirm his first choice for a Supreme Court vacancy represented another step forward to a “more perfect union,” and said that she would do an outstanding job. Republicans said however that they feared she would be an activist judge. Her writings and speeches “reflect a belief not just that impartiality is not possible, but that it’s not even worth the effort,” Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, said.

Ms Sotomayor, the daughter of Puerto Rican parents, was brought up on a housing estate in the Bronx. Her father died when she was 9 and her mother, a nurse, was left to raise her alone.

She pursued a career in law, winning scholarships to Princeton University and then Yale Law School, where she edited the Law Review.

After graduating she worked as a New York prosecutor before joining a private business law practice. She was named a judge by the first President Bush in 1991.

Her nomination was seen as an attempt by Mr Obama, who is also an Ivy League-trained lawyer, to push the Supreme Court to the left on issues ranging from civil rights to gun control.

As a US senator Mr Obama voted against George W. Bush’s two successful Supreme Court nominees: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

During her confirmation hearings Judge Sotomayor faced criticism over a speech that she made in California in 2001. In it she said: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

She told senators that the remarks were intended as an attempt to inspire young Hispanics and insisted that she did not believe “any ethnic, gender or race group has an advantage in sound judging”.

She became embroiled in more controversy when her future colleagues on the Supreme Court overturned a decision by her appeals court disallowing a “reverse discrimination” claim by a group of predominantly white firefighters.

The firefighters had lost their chance at promotion when their examination results were thrown out because of fears of in-built bias against African-Americans in the test. The Supreme Court ruled that the city of New Haven, Connecticut, had been wrong to discard the results.

It is unlikely that Ms Sotomayor will shift the centre of gravity of the nine-member court immediately.

She replaces Justice David Souter, who aligned himself with the court’s liberal wing even though he was nominated by a Republican president.

In recent court decisions the liberal justices have often been outnumbered 5-4 by the conservatives.


Post a Comment