by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
June 4, 2009
TIANANMEN, PLUS TWENTY YEARS
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The speed with which Sonia Sotomayor was attacked by conservatives this week shows how high the stakes are in the upcoming confirmation hearings that will decide if she gets to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court this fall.
Sotomayor, currently the presiding judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, was picked by President Barack Obama on Tuesday to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter. Conservatives think that if they succeed in blocking Sotomayor, they will lift the sagging fortunes of the Republican Party.
They are wasting their time. Sotomayor brings more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice in a century, and more overall judicial experience than anyone confirmed for the Court in the past 70 years. Far from being a token, she has has a distinguished career in nearly every aspect of the law.
As a prosecutor, litigator and trial and appellate judge for three decades, the 54-year-old New York native has a reputation as a judge with a sophisticated grasp of legal doctrine and a consistent, fair and common sense legal approach. She has a keen awareness of the law's impact on everyday life and understands the difference between legal theory and real world facts.
They can't attack her on experience, and the shrieks of "liberal judicial activist" ring hollow to most Americans, especially when they learn Sotomayor's life story.
She's the daughter of a factory worker who died when she was a child. She was diagnosed with diabetes as an eight-year-old and was raised by her mother, a nurse at a methadone clinic, in a public housing project in the South Bronx. She said she was a fan of the tv drama "Perry Mason," which inspired her to pursue a legal career - a dream seemingly out of reach for a Puerto Rican girl. But she would graduate summa cum laude from Princeton in 1976 and then attended Yale Law School in 1979, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal.
A person from a humble background rising to the pinnacle of her profession through hard work and determination is a story every American can relate to. This is the American story we believe in. As only the third woman - and the first Hispanic - nominated to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor will help make the high court look a little more like America. As someone with the rare combination of towering intellect and the common touch, she is an excellent choice.
But there are also practical advantages to having someone like Sotomayor on the Supreme Court. The Second Circuit, based in New York, is the top federal appeals court in the nation's commercial center, so Sotomayor has considerable expertise in corporate and securities law - skills that will be important as the Supreme Court takes on more and more cases involving financial and economic issues in the coming years.
Sotomayor was a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney's office, and later a corporate lawyer, before she was appointed to the federal bench in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush. Most of the Republicans supported her during her confirmation hearings for the Second Circuit seat in 1998. Those two facts take a lot of the steam out of any potential opposition to her nomination.
This week was an important reminder that elections have consequences, and one of the biggest consequences of President Obama's victory last November was the potential to pick up to three new justices for the U.S. Supreme Court. Instead of reactionaries like Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia or Samuel Alito, we have a chance to see reasonable and experienced jurists such as Sotomayor on the high court in the coming years. This is a welcome development.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for
nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade
Books). He can be reached at email@example.com. For extra added
thrills, read his">http://hclassics15.blogspot.com">his ongoing daily blog on The Harvard Classics.