U.S. secretary of housing and urban development during the Clinton administration; executive chairman of CityView, a real estate investment company
We know the traditional reasons Sonia Sotomayor has been nominated by President Obama: She has a strong record as a federal circuit court judge, she has earned respect as an experienced trial judge and she possesses a keen legal mind.
But there is an equally important reason, attuned to the makeup of modern America. Sotomayor embodies the excellence that exists among new Americans, those segments of our population who come up along a track different from the traditional origins of the nation's legal elite. Her path of excellence stretches from valedictorian of her high school class to summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa at Princeton, to editor of the Yale Law Journal, to author of more than 400 published legal opinions. This record of excellence resides comfortably alongside her heritage as a Puerto Rican woman who grew up in public housing within the South Bronx. Legal excellence that coexists with understanding of the labors of striving Americans is precisely the combination of experience that deserves a voice among the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
Sotomayor's writings strongly suggest she will be independent, realistic but not passive about the limits of judicial power. She will bring a new voice to the court. I am thrilled that the likely next justice is a woman from an ethnic and economic background that is not the traditional grist for the judicial mill.
I am a firm believer that a judge does and should bring her life's experience to her judicial role. Sotomayor has written, “All judges have cases that touch our passions deeply, but we all struggle constantly with remaining impartial and ‘letting reason speak'. … We struggle to find ways to convince our colleagues of our views and to accommodate the needs - and respect the powers - of the other branches of government . … All courts, no matter what their provenance or jurisdiction, are in large part the product of their membership and their judges' ability to think through and across their own intellectual and professional backgrounds to reach some juncture of consensus and cooperation in which common language is used to articulate the rules and norms that bond their communities. In the end … we are all trying to achieve justice.” She knows what judging is about.
Democratic pollster and author
Nothing better explains President Obama's selection of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of David Souter than Obama's trip yesterday to Las Vegas, where he attended a fundraiser on behalf of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose anemic poll numbers make him a likely Republican target in 2010.
Hispanics make up 15 percent of Nevada voters and broke almost three to one for Obama in 2008. Reid will need to do at least as well with this group to be reelected next year.
Obama improved the Democrats' share of the Hispanic vote nationally by almost 15 percent from 2004 — gains that he and his strategists hope to institutionalize, especially given the rightward drift of the Republican Party.
Consider some of the races up for grabs next year: Illinois and New York (Sotomayor's home state) have populations that are about 10 percent Hispanic. Both have appointed senators who have not yet created a political dynamic that makes their seats a lock for the Democrats next year.
In Colorado, where the Hispanic vote approaches 15 percent, the party is likely to run an appointee who had little visibility and name recognition before being named to a traditionally marginal seat.