x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Hispanic nominated to supreme court

President Barack Obama selects a female judge to fill seat being vacated in the country's most powerful judicial body.

WASHINGTON // Citing her "inspiring life's journey", Barack Obama has picked Sonia Sotomayor, an appeals court judge from New York, to replace Justice David Souter, who is retiring from the US Supreme Court. If confirmed by the Senate, Ms Sotomayor, 54, will become the third woman and first Hispanic to serve on the nine-judge court, which hands down many of the country's most consequential decisions. In making his announcement yesterday, the president praised Ms Sotomayor's wide-ranging legal experience, which includes time as a prosecutor of violent crimes in New York City and as a corporate litigator for a private firm. She was chosen by a Republican president, George HW Bush, to serve as a trial judge on the US district court; a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, appointed her to the federal appeals court. "Walking in the door she would bring more experience on the bench - and more varied experience on the bench - than anyone currently serving on the United States supreme court had when they were appointed," said Mr Obama, adding that this "exhaustive" selection process included consultation with legislators from both parties. "It's a career that has not only given her a sweeping overview of the American judicial system, but a practical understanding of how the law works in the everyday lives of the American people." It was widely expected that Mr Obama would tap a minority to fill the vacancy. There is currently one woman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and one African-American, Clarence Thomas, on the court. The decision was applauded by members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, including Charles Gonzalez, a Democratic congressman from Texas, who called the selection of Ms Sotomayor, "tangible proof of the strength derived by the diversity represented in American society". Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority in the United States. The pick of Ms Sotomayor also would seem to fulfil another of the president's goals: to find a nominee who can exhibit "empathy" and understanding of the effect of legal decisions on ordinary citizens. Ms Sotomayor is the first nominee by a Democratic president in 15 years. She is thought to be a reliably liberal vote, though her selection would not substantially change the makeup of the court. Mr Souter was already among a bloc of four liberal-leaning justices. Ms Sotomayor, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was raised in a New York public housing project by a single mother who worked six days a week as a nurse. Her father, a factory worker, died when she was nine years old. She earned a scholarship to Princeton University and Yale Law School. She has been divorced since 1983, has no children, and is reported to live in a modest New York apartment. Ms Sotomayor said during brief comments that the "challenging circumstances" of her upbringing and her professional experience have shaped her philosophy as a judge. "I strive never to forget the real-world consequences of my decisions on individuals, businesses and government," she said. The talk of "real world" applications of the law has worried some Republicans and conservative activist groups who say it sounds like Ms Sotomayor will let her politics influence her decisions rather than employing a strict interpretation of the law. Wendy Long of the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network issued a statement yesterday calling Ms Sotomayor a "liberal judicial activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important than the law as written". Republicans have also been critical of Ms Sotomayor for saying in 2005 at Duke University that "the court of appeals is where policy is made". Critics say such comments are further evidence Ms Sotomayor will mix politics with her legal opinions. She will now have to answer her critics during confirmation hearings before the Senate judiciary committee. Although such hearings can be contentious - George W Bush's White House counsel, Harriet Miers, for example, withdrew her name amid criticism - many believe Ms Sotomayor will be approved by the time the high court begins its next session in October. Democrats hold a large majority in the Senate and could have a 60-vote filibuster-proof supermajority pending the outcome of the Minnesota Senate race, which is being contested in court in that state. In one of her most notable rulings as an appellate judge, Ms Sotomayor was part of a three-judge panel that sided with the city of New Haven, Connecticut, in a discrimination suit brought by a group of white firemen. The firemen were questioning the city's decision not to certify a test that would have made a disproportionate number of white applicants eligible for promotions. In the ruling, the judges said that although they were "not unsympathetic to the plaintiff's expression of frustration", they were bound by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to decide in favour of the city. The case, which is on appeal, is scheduled to appear before the Supreme Court. Ms Sotomayor is also well known for issuing an injunction against Major League Baseball owners, effectively ending a baseball strike that had become the longest work stoppage in professional sports history. "Some say Judge Sotomayor saved baseball," Mr Obama acknowledged with a smile. For her part, Ms Sotomayor sought to assure her detractors that she would not deviate from the principles of the US Constitution. "For as long as I can remember, I have been inspired by the achievement of our Founding Fathers. They set forth principles that have endured for more than two centuries," she said. "Those principles are as meaningful and relevant in each generation as the generation before. It would be a profound privilege for me to play a role in applying those principles to the questions and controversies we face today." sstanek@thenational.ae