On behalf of NLLSA, I wrote this op-ed for El Diario, pressing President Obama to nominate a Hispanic — specifically Judge Sotomayor of the Second Circuit — to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Here’s the English translation:
In Support of Judge Sonia Sotomayor
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said, “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” Indeed, the best Supreme Court Justices have been those that brought unique experiences and perspectives to the Court.
In 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson did something no other President had ever done: he nominated an African American to the Supreme Court of the United States. Although the nation was still in the throes of the Civil Rights Movement, and only three years removed from the Civil Rights Act, President Johnson said of Marshall’s nomination that it was “the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place.”
Fourteen years later, the United States was divided over both Roe v. Wade, which finally grounded a woman’s right to choose in the Constitution, and also the Equal Rights Amendment, which sought to affirm the equal application of the Constitution to both men and women. Although he faced a bitterly divided nation, in 1981 President Ronald Reagan made a decision as bold as President Johnson’s was before him: he nominated Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman to the Supreme Court.
Justice Marshall brought with him the experience of the Civil Rights Movement, having witnessed firsthand the destructive effects of Jim Crow. Similarly, Justice O’Connor experienced gender discrimination firsthand when no law firm in California was willing to hire her even though she graduated 3rd in her class at Stanford (just behind William Rehnquist).
The Court is still missing many firsts, such as the first Asian nominee or the first openly gay nominee. But perhaps the most glaring experience missing from the Court today is the experience of growing up Hispanic in a country with over 45 million Latinos. Now is the time for President Barack Obama to nominate U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court to fill the seat soon to be vacated by Justice David Souter. Born to Puerto Rican parents and raised in housing projects of the South Bronx, Judge Sotomayor’s ascent to the highest court in the land would be an unparalleled achievement for the Latino community, and a uniquely bright moment in American history.
Like Justices Marshall and O’Connor, Judge Sotomayor would bring a life of experience sorely needed on the Court today. But her experience is not limited to being a woman or to being Latina. Judge Sotomayor’s depth and breadth of experience are rare—even for the Supreme Court. With almost seventeen years on the federal bench, Judge Sotomayor would be the most experienced appointee to the Supreme Court in seventy-five years; the last appointee with more experience was Justice Cardozo, who was named to the court in 1932. Judge Sotomayor would be one of only three justices on the court who have served as state prosecutors or Assistant U.S. Attorneys. She would be the only Supreme Court justice with experience as a trial court judge.
Admittedly, we as Latino and Latina law students and attorneys are particularly proud of Judge Sotomayor’s accomplishments. Judge Sotomayor has overcome poverty, a life-long battle with diabetes, and the death of her father to become one of the most accomplished jurists of her generation. Her rise from Bronx housing projects to the top of her class at Princeton and Yale—and then to the second-highest court in the United States—embodies the hopes that we have for ourselves and our children.
Never in the history of this country has a Latino been at the pinnacle of any branch of government; because of her brilliance, her accomplishments, and her uniquely American story, Judge Sonia Sotomayor is the woman to take that first step into history.
Like the nominations of Justices Marshall and O’Connor, nominating Judge Sotomayor would be the right thing to do and now is the right time to do it.
David A. Perez
Chairman of the National Latino Law Students Association
Third-year student at Yale Law School