Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Latina judge, Sonia Sotomayor Goes to the Supremes.

Circuit judge Sonia Sotomayor has been chosen by President Barack Obama to serve on the Supreme Court, putting her in line to be the first Hispanic person to wear the robes of a justice.

A formal announcement from the US president is expected later. Sotomayor, 54, would succeed the retiring justice David Souter, if the Senate confirms the move. Two officials revealed Obama's decision ahead of the announcement on condition of anonymity.

Administration officials said Sotomayor would bring more judicial experience to the court than any justice confirmed in the past 70 years.

Born to Puerto Rican parents and raised in a Brooklyn housing project, Sotomayor is likely to be portrayed by the right as a liberal, in keeping with Obama's own leanings, but she was first appointed as a New York district judge by George Bush in 1991. She has a reputation as neither an extreme liberal or a crusader.

Sotomayor says she was inspired to become a lawyer by watching the Perry Mason TV series as a child. She has served on the US court of appeals for the second circuit since 1998.

Sotomayor studied at Princeton and graduated with the highest honours, before going to Yale law school where she edited the Yale Law Journal. She began her legal career as an assistant district attorney in New York county before going into practice in the city, where she made partner after three years.

She was appointed as a judge in the district court while still in her 30s, making her the youngest judge in the southern district of New York, before being named an appeals judge by Bill Clinton. At her Senate confirmation hearing more than a decade ago she said: "I don't believe we should bend the constitution under any circumstance. It says what it says. We should do honour to it."

Her best-known ruling was probably the injunction she issued against major league baseball owners in April 1995, effectively ending a baseball strike of nearly eight months, which had led to the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in 90 years.

She is a prosecutor who tried violent criminals like the so-called Tarzan Murderer, a lawyer who represented silk-purse clients like Fendi and Ferrari, and a judge who ruled on subjects as varied as a strike by baseball players and the exclusionary rule. After 17 years on the district court and now the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, Judge Sotomayor has accumulated so little money that her credit card and dental bills nearly match her total savings.

The documents reveal that the White House contacted her about a possible Supreme Court nomination on April 27, three days before Justice Souter’s plan to retire was publicly reported. From that point on, she wrote, she had “near daily phone calls” with White House officials, indicating how serious Mr. Obama was about her as a candidate from the beginning.

Unlike Mr. Obama, who as president has largely avoided overt discussion of his racial identity, Judge Sotomayor has made her ethnicity a regular theme of her public addresses, touching on it to make points with audiences that were sometimes largely Hispanic and sometimes not. At times, she portrayed herself as a stranger in a strange land.

“Somewhere all of us Puerto Ricans and people of color have had a defining moment when we were shocked into learning that we were different and that American society treated us differently,” she told the National Puerto Rican Coalition in 1998. “The shock and sense of being an alien will never again, I suspect, be as profound for any of us as that first experience, because I know from personal experience that our education and professional training have equipped us to deal better in this sometimes alien land.”

In another 1998 speech, she said the United States was often ambivalent about how to deal with its diversity. “America has a deeply confused image of itself that is a perpetual source of tension,” she said. “We are a nation that takes pride in our ethnic diversity, recognizing its importance in shaping our society and in adding richness to its existence.

“Yet we simultaneously insist that we can and must function and live in a race- and color-blind way that ignores those very differences that in other contexts we laud.”

Her speeches also indicate that she is not afraid to take on opponents. In 1998, after she was confirmed to the appeals court, she recounted how she was vigorously questioned by senators based on what she called “mischaracterization and misunderstanding of three of my decisions” by Rush Limbaugh. In recent days, Mr. Limbaugh has led the fight against her nomination, calling her a “reverse racist.”

In a 2001 speech, Judge Sotomayor attributed the yearlong delay before her confirmation to “Senate Republican leaders who believed that I was a potential for the Supreme Court one day.”

“They also believed that I am a liberal and therefore did not want the nomination to go through,” she continued.

She credited “support from Latino and women’s groups” for breaking the stalemate.

That was the same year she made the comment about how a “wise Latina” could make a better decision than a white man. The White House has called that a poor choice of words, but it was not the only time she used them. In 1994, she said something similar, although she referred to women generally, not just Latinas. And in 2003, she said a “wise Latina woman” would “reach a better conclusion” but did not say better than whom.

The White House argued that the fact that she had used a similar formulation in 1994 without its being questioned during the 1998 confirmation process showed that it was now being manufactured as a false issue. And to rebut the notion that she would let her background blur her jurisprudence, the administration pointed to a 2000 speech in which she said, “I have to unhook myself from my emotional responses and try to stay within my unemotional, objective persona.”

The documents submitted to the Senate underscored how much more modest Judge Sotomayor’s finances were than those of many of her would-be colleagues. Judge Sotomayor, who makes about $180,000 a year, owns no stock and has just $31,985 in savings. Her two-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village, which she bought in 1998 for $360,000, is her only major asset, valued at just under $1 million.

After refinancing several times, she owes $381,775 on the home as well as $15,000 for credit card bills and $15,000 for dental bills, making her net worth just over $740,000.

Federal judges who spend at least 15 years on the bench, as Judge Sotomayor has, are entitled to an annual retirement benefit equal to their full salary for life starting at age 65.

Obama's nomination is the first by a Democratic president in 15 years. Obama has said publicly he wants a justice who combines intellect and empathy; someone able to understand the troubles of ordinary Americans.

Democrats hold a large majority in the Senate. Barring the unexpected, Sotomayor's confirmation should be assured. If approved, she would join Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second woman on the court.

Sotomayor has spoken openly about her pride in being Latina, and said personal experiences "affect the facts that judges choose to see".

"I simply do not know exactly what the difference will be in my judging," she said in a speech in 2002. "But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage."

From the moment Souter announced his resignation it was widely assumed Obama would select a woman to replace him, and perhaps a Hispanic as well.

Others known to have been considered included the federal appeals judge Diane Wood, who was a colleague of the president's at the University of Chicago law school, as well as two members of his administration, the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, and the solicitor general nominee, Elena Kagan.

(By Helen L. Burleson, Doctor of Public Administration)
I’m going to open my premise with a very simple observation. A young child is walking alone on the parking lot of a grocery store. You observe that there is a father walking a few steps ahead of the child. Now you see a mother with a bag of groceries in her arms, one child holding her hand and another one holding onto her skirt. That simple observation may very well explain what Judge Sotomayor alluded to when she referenced the fact that as a female she views life differently than a man. Let’s face it, there is a difference between the way men and women interpret life. This may well have something to do with the way boys and girls are socialized; and, these differences show up early in life. Little girls like to dress up and play house. Little boys like to play cops and robbers and rough house.

There is even a difference in color selection where women tend to like pinks and brightly colored garments and men tend to prefer the more somber colors.

Women tend to be more nurturing and empathetic which is why merchants will tell you that more money is spent celebrating Mothers’ Day than Fathers’ Day. Most of us remember the warm embraces, the tender hugs and kisses when we were either physically or mentally bruised. Father’s tend to tell us to keep a stiff upper lip when we are hurt.

Now let’s apply this to the law, especially, the law of the land, The Supreme Court. Both males and females rise to the expectation of interpreting the Constitution of the United States of America, however, females bring a quality, called empathy to their judgements. This is not to say that men don’t have empathy, but it is less evident in most men. Some men even think of this as a weakness; but, only the strong do not fear to show empathy. This does not mean that the female is less strict in applying the rule of law, but she also has a unique perspective from her years as a nurturer that sees the human element in the law. This broader view may very well cut down on recidivism because of the morality that a female seems to engender in dealing with people and issues. Who is it who first teaches us right from wrong? More often than not it is the mother.

The letter of the law must be upheld, but there is also the spirit of the law which must be part and parcel of all decisions. Understanding and applying the spirit of the law is something that the female psyche encompasses. That is why we need more females on the Bench. I, personally, can think of no one more capable of valuing the spirit of the law because of her life story and her life experiences. The Judge has walked in the shoes of so many average Americans. The death of her father at an early age probably caused her to develop a strength, a fortitude and a level of wisdom and maturity that many children do not experience. Seeing her mother struggle to support the family is a part of her experience that probably caused her to be motivated to work hard, to set goals and achieve beyond expectations of a child growing up in a housing project. Her issue with her health is also a factor that influenced her because most children grow up healthy and are not burdened with having to deal with the rigors of adjusting to special diets and even medication. The totality of her life experiences are those that make one appreciate life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, illnesses are great levelers that often bring out humility, caring and sensitivity. Think about those people in your life who have suffered from chronic diseases, if they are not made bitter, they are usually more optimistic and appreciate the small things in life and are more grateful for the life they have.

The critics and the cynics are mocking the emotion – empathy. One such critic scoffed (and I’ll paraphrase) ‘empathy, empathetic, I’ll show you empathy right on your behind.’

Usually the more secure a man is the more he is willing to show his feminine side of compassion and empathy. To me, a man is never so strong as when he cries over a great loss: the loss of his parents, his spouse, and heaven forbid, his children. All emotions are good. It is even good to show anger and disgust sometimes, as long as that is not the overwhelming emotion. Experiencing the range of emotions helps us keep our equilibrium.

Beware the critics who are calling Judge Sotomayor a racist! I think they speak with a forked tongue and are projecting their deep and basic philosophies on someone else. How many of these same critics decried the fact and called it racist when for centuries the Supreme Court was 100% white males. Did they not consider this racist? Enjoy your great laugh when you hear the ignorant say she is not qualified. How on earth would they know? Small minds speak small words and perform small deeds.

There is another reason why Judge Sotomayor is needed on the Bench. America is a very diverse country and that diversity is what distinguishes us from most other nations. The richness of our diversity makes us the better for having lived in an environment where all ethnicities, races, religions, ages, gender, cultures and philosophies are incorporated, accepted and respected.

There is no question that Judge Sotomayor is qualified. Those who say she does not have the intellect are deficient themselves and in so being, are trying to make themselves feel better by devaluing those who are more talented than they are. Don’t be fooled by the motivation of the naysayers and the upholders of the status quo.

I’m going back to my opening premise. If we just all use a little common sense, or as the old folks used to call it, “Mother Wit” we would all be better off for it.

I strongly endorse President Obama’s selection of Judge Sonia Maria Sotomayor to become a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America. Judge Sotomayor is the epitome of a Horatio Alger heroine.

Ten Things To Know About Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

1. Judge Sotomayor would bring more federal judicial experience to the bench than any Supreme Court justice in 100 years. Over her three-decade career, she has served in a wide variety of legal roles, including as a prosecutor, litigator, and judge.
2. Judge Sotomayor is a trailblazer. She was the first Latina to serve on the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and was the youngest member of the court when appointed to the District Court for the Southern District of New York. If confirmed, she will be the first Hispanic to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.
3. While on the bench, Judge Sotomayor has consistently protected the rights of working Americans, ruling in favor of health benefits and fair wages for workers in several cases.
4. Judge Sotomayor has shown strong support for First Amendment rights, including in cases of religious expression and the rights to assembly and free speech.
5. Judge Sotomayor has a strong record on civil rights cases, ruling for plaintiffs who had been discriminated against based on disability, sex and race.
6. Judge Sotomayor embodies the American dream. Born to Puerto Rican parents, she grew up in a South Bronx housing project and was raised from age nine by a single mother, excelling in school and working her way to graduate summa cum laude from Princeton University and to become an editor of the Law Journal at Yale Law School.
7. In 1995, Judge Sotomayor "saved baseball" when she stopped the owners from illegally changing their bargaining agreement with the players, thereby ending the longest professional sports walk-out in history.
8. Judge Sotomayor ruled in favor of the environment in a case of protecting aquatic life in the vicinity of power plants in 2007, a decision that was overturned by the Roberts Supreme Court.
9. In 1992, Judge Sotomayor was confirmed by the Senate without opposition after being appointed to the bench by George H.W. Bush.
10. Judge Sotomayor is a widely respected legal figure, having been described as " outstanding colleague with a keen legal mind," "highly qualified for any position in which wisdom, intelligence, collegiality and good character would be assets," and "a role model of aspiration, discipline, commitment, intellectual prowess and integrity."
Judge Sotomayor is an historic, uniquely qualified nominee to the Supreme Court.

(A Commentary by Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez (6/02/2009))

The president’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court has come during a most awkward time in the history of U.S. journalism, which many analysts claim is in serious decline, if not on life support.

What her nomination clearly shows us is that what this nation needs is more incisive journalism, not less. Yet, to be sure, the rise of right-wing media, which include FOX News and virtually all the known right-wing radio talk show hosts, is the antithesis of journalism.

Their coverage of the Sotomayor nomination points to the need for honest debate, not simply on the issues of race, but on the right wing’s aversion to truth. It also points to the right wing's pompous beliefs, on every topic, including affirmative action, that their positions are “American.”

Extremist politicos Newt Gingrich and Tom Tancredo, both of whom have zero credibility but are stars of right-wing media, have led the charge that Sotomayor is a racist. They have been joined by the usual wingnuts: Rush Limbaugh, Gordon Liddy, Glenn Beck, Pat Buchanan, Lou Dobbs, to name a few. Even Juan Williams of NPR, has parroted the claim that Sotomayor’s (out-of-context) statements are racist. The fact that the nation’s discussion centers on whether she is a racist or not -– or that she is an "affirmative action" pick (Buchanan) -– points to both the power of the wingnuts and also to the virtual impotence, or complicity, of mainstream media.

Historically, mainstream journalists have been taught that critical analysis constitutes injecting subjectivity into their reporting.

All this brouhaha is based on the Sotomayor statement that the experiences of a Latina might allow her to make better judgment in court than a white male. Her detractors say that if a white male had made similar statements he would have been automatically disqualified. They conveniently ignore the fact that the Supreme Court has been virtually all-white for most of the nation’s history. It also ignores the fact that throughout U.S. history, white males have generally not been subjected to apartheid discrimination and segregation, let alone extermination, slavery, forced removals, extra-legal brutality and false imprisonment.

The charges against Sotomayor have a familiar ring. Staunch segregationists used to charge that Martin Luther King, Jr. was both un-American and a racist. President Ronald Reagan institutionalized that kind of thinking in defense of South Africa’s apartheid regime. For him, Nelson Mandela was a terrorist, while the outlaw South African regime constituted a “democratic ally.”

Such thinking was also “normalized” during the affirmative action debate; those who attempted to dismantle the vestiges of racial discrimination were deemed “racists” or “reverse racists,” or communists by those working to maintain it. A reverse racist is precisely what Limbaugh labeled both Sotomayor and President Obama.

Those doing this labeling have well understood the nation’s changing political climate; they could no longer campaign as the defenders of white racial supremacy. Instead, they generally cloaked their views under the conservative-Republican mantle and wrapped themselves in the American flag.

They also knew that to win a debate required further subverting the nation’s political language. These same “patriots” began to reinterpret MLK Jr.'s quote about the dream of a color-blind society. In public, they gladly accepted the “dream” without accepting the societal responsibility of dismantling and remedying centuries of institutional racism and discrimination in this country.

While the majority of Americans can see through the false arguments and the “clever” subversion of the political language by these so-called patriots, this does not hold true for the mainstream media. As we are seeing with Sotomayor, all it takes is a handful of “extremists” to control and shape the media debate.

Perhaps the only upside is that Americans can now clearly see that the politics of Gingrich and Tancredo are the same as that of Limbaugh, Liddy, Beck, Buchanan and Dobbs. These pundits who daily rant against “illegal aliens,” and who daily clamor on the need to fortify the U.S.-Mexico border, are quoted as credible sources by the mainstream press. They are generally the same ones who promote the politics of fear and hate, who believe in the use of torture, and who also believe that the United States is endowed with the God-given right to conduct permanent war against the rest of the world.

Truthfully, who can discern a difference between these right-wing fanatics and the positions of mainline conservatives within the Republican Party?

Rodriguez can be reached at:

The Supreme Court ruled on 29 June 2009 that white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were unfairly denied promotions because of their race, reversing a decision that high court nominee Sonia Sotomayor endorsed as an appeals court judge.

New Haven was wrong to scrap a promotion exam because no African-Americans and only two Hispanic firefighters were likely to be made lieutenants or captains based on the results, the court said Monday in a 5-4 decision. The city said that it had acted to avoid a lawsuit from minorities.

The ruling could alter employment practices nationwide and make it harder to prove discrimination when there is no evidence it was intentional.

"Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer's reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions," Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his opinion for the court. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the white firefighters "understandably attract this court's sympathy. But they had no vested right to promotion. Nor have other persons received promotions in preference to them."

Justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens signed onto Ginsburg's dissent, which she read aloud in court Monday.

Kennedy's opinion made only passing reference to the work of Sotomayor and the other two judges on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who upheld a lower court ruling in favor of New Haven.

But the appellate judges have been criticized for producing a cursory opinion that failed to deal with "indisputably complex and far from well-settled" questions, in the words of another appeals court judge, Sotomayor mentor Jose Cabranes.

"This perfunctory disposition rests uneasily with the weighty issues presented by this appeal," Cabranes said, in a dissent from the full 2nd Circuit's decision not to hear the case.

Monday's decision has its origins in New Haven's need to fill vacancies for lieutenants and captains in its fire department. It hired an outside firm to design a test, which was given to 77 candidates for lieutenant and 41 candidates for captain.

Fifty six firefighters passed the exams, including 41 whites, 22 blacks and 18 Hispanics. But of those, only 17 whites and two Hispanics could expect promotion.

The city eventually decided not to use the exam to determine promotions. It said it acted because it might have been vulnerable to claims that the exam had a "disparate impact" on minorities in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The white firefighters said the decision violated the same law's prohibition on intentional discrimination.

Kennedy said an employer needs a "strong basis in evidence" to believe it will be held liable in a disparate impact lawsuit. New Haven had no such evidence, he said.

The city declined to validate the test after it was given, a step that could have identified flaws or determined that there were no serious problems with it. In addition, city officials could not say what was wrong with the test, other than the racially skewed results.


ichbinalj said...

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned on Sunday 14 June 2009 that a GOP filibuster of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is possible but added that it was "way too early to tell" if Republicans will go that route.

McConnell and other Republicans have objected to the Democrats' plan to confirm Sotomayor before the August congressional recess, claiming that they need far more time to review her record. The White House and Democratic leaders counter that they are giving the minority the same amount of time as previous high court nominees.

During an interview on CBS's "Face the Nation," McConnell said the filibuster option remained on the table but would not say it would be employed.

ichbinalj said...

Pushing toward a historic Supreme Court confirmation vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday 28 July 2009 approved Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be the first Hispanic justice, over nearly solid Republican opposition.

The panel's 13-6 vote for Sotomayor masked deep political divisions within GOP ranks about confirming President Barack Obama's first high court nominee. Just one Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, joined Democrats to support her, although four others have said they'll vote for Sotomayor when her nomination comes before the full Senate next week — and that number is expected to grow.