WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Sonia Sotomayor became the Supreme Court’s first Latina justice Aug. 8, pledging to defend the Constitution and administer impartial justice during a brief ceremony in the court’s chambers. She became only the third woman to serve in the court’s 220-year history.

Justice Sotomayor took the second of two oaths of office from Chief Justice John Roberts in an ornate conference room, beneath a portrait of legendary Chief Justice John Marshall. Her mother, Celina Sotomayor, held the Bible on which the new justice pledged to “do equal right to the poor and to the rich.” Hers was the first Supreme Court swearing in before television cameras.

Justice Sotomayor has been a federal judge for 17 years. President Obama nominated her in May to take the place of Justice David Souter after Justice Souter announced his retirement. The Senate confirmed Ms. Sotomayor’s nomination Aug. 6 by a 68-31 vote. “This is a wonderful day for Judge Sotomayor and her family, but I also think it’s a wonderful day for America,” Mr. Obama said following the vote.


Justice Sotomayor will take her seat on the high court in September when the justices reconvene to hear challenges to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

“These core American ideals–justice, equality and opportunity–are the very ideals that have made Judge Sotomayor’s own uniquely American journey possible,” the president continued at the White House following the vote. “They’re ideals she’s fought for throughout her career and the ideals the Senate has upheld today in breaking yet another barrier and moving us yet another step closer to a more perfect union.”

Latino leaders were ecstatic. “Today marks a historic milestone for all Americans. The entire Hispanic community is profoundly moved by Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation as we celebrate another important step in our nation’s ongoing journey toward a government more reflective of our diverse nation,” Rep. Nydia Velazquez, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the U.S. Congress said in a statement.

“Sonia Sotomayor’s personal story is powerful evidence that, with the right talent, dedication and hard work, anything is possible. Equally important, Judge Sotomayor is an exceptionally talented jurist and her confirmation brings to the court another brilliant legal mind. Throughout her career, she has augmented her vast legal experience with a unique understanding of how the law affects the everyday lives of ordinary Americans. Her temperament, integrity and, as she puts it, ‘fidelity to the law’ will serve the Court well as it decides cases that shape our nation’s future.”

Justice Sotomayor’s Republican opponents, however, aimed most of their criticisms at remarks she made off the bench, rather than at her extensive judicial record–more than 17 years as a judge on federal circuit court and appeals courts.

In her confirmation hearings, some Republican senators accused Justice Sotomayor of bias against White people based on remarks from speeches her supporters say are taken out of context. “How is it appropriate for a judge ever to say that they will choose to see some facts and not others?” Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions asked the nominee during her confirmation hearing.

At least one observer said her confirmation and swearing in were anti-climactic. “Given that we’ve known that she was going to be elevated by the Senate for what…three months now? It certainly is a first, but on the other hand, it’s pretty anti-climactic after all this time. Her opponents were shooting blanks,” Dr. David Bositis, a senior research fellow at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies told The Final Call.

Her Senate supporters insisted that the GOP got it wrong about Justice Sotomayor. “Several of my Republican colleagues said, as they cast their votes against her in the Judiciary Committee, that they did not know what kind of Supreme Court Justice they might be getting in Judge Sotomayor. I find this conclusion to be confounding,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in the final Senate floor debate Aug. 5. She is no irresponsible liberal, Sen. Schumer pointed out, rather she is a judicial moderate.

“Judge Sotomayor is hardly a riddle wrapped in mystery inside an enigma. No matter what cross section we take of her extensive record, down to examining individual cases, we see someone who has never expressed any desire or intention to overturn existing precedent, nor have my colleagues been able to point to any such case.

“We know more about Judge Sotomayor than we have known about any nominee in 100 years,” Mr. Schumer continued. “The best way to tell how a judge is going to be, to look at their previous cases–when you look at those cases, it tells plenty about her moderation. She has agreed with her Republican colleagues 95 percent of the time. She has ruled for the government in 83 percent of immigration cases, presumably against the immigrant. She has ruled for the government in 92 percent of criminal cases, against the criminal. She has denied race claims in 83 percent of cases.”

“I have two words to summarize my feelings about this nomination,” said Sen. Schumer: “It’s time. It is time we have a nominee to the Supreme Court whose record has proven to be truly mainstream. It is time we have a nominee with practical experience in all levels of the justice system, whose upbringing in a Bronx housing project, whose experience as a prosecutor, litigator, and district court judge has enabled her to see, as she said in her own statement, ‘the human consequences’ of her decisions.

“And it is time that we have a nominee who is Hispanic, a member of the fastest growing population in America. Finally, it is time that we have a frank discussion about what is preventing so many colleagues on the other side of the aisle from supporting Judge Sotomayor,” Sen. Schumer said.

Related links:

In Defense of “Identity Politics” (FCN, 07-02-2009)

Obama Frustrates Republican Agenda with Sotomayor Nomination (FCN, 06-22-2009)

Sotomayor’s Confirmation Hearings: A Test for the GOP (FCN, 06-12-2009)