Civil rights leaders rejoice in Sotomayor nomination

President Barack Obama’s May 26 nomination of New York Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court has drawn praise from Latino leaders and civil rights and women’s advocates. Sotomayor would be the first Latina justice on the high court.

A Republican president, George H.W. Bush, first appointed Sotomayor to the district court of Southern New York. She became the first Puerto Rican judge on that court.

“The President has chosen a nominee with a record of excellence and integrity and I commend him for this thoughtful appointment,” said New York Congresswoman Nydia M. Velazquez (D) in a press statement.

“Her uniquely American story of rising from a humble background to overcome numerous obstacles, coupled with her professional experience at nearly every level of the judicial system, make her an outstanding choice,” said Velazquez. “Not only will she bring a balanced approach to legal issues that will benefit all Americans, but, importantly, this historic selection adds needed diversity to the court.”

Leaders of LatinoJustice Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund congratulated Obama for his decision. In a press statement the group said, “The President has not only chosen a well-qualified and respected judge who will be a great asset to the court and our nation — but with his first opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court Justice, the President brings the Hispanic community into the exclusive chambers of the highest court in the land.”

“Sonia is a member of our family and spent more than a decade providing leadership to our organization,” said Cesar Perales, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “We profited first-hand from her probing mind as well as her thoughtfulness beyond her extraordinary intellect. She is a most practical person who found solutions to complex issues.”

Sotomayor’s nomination comes at a time when the Latino community is at the heart of a number of highly politicized issues and attacks on our civil liberties, LatinoJustice PRLDEF says. The group notes that, with Latinos being the second largest and fastest growing population in America, with a large pool of qualified individuals to choose from, it was wholly appropriate for the president to nominate Sotomayor.

“We are prepared to engage those who would unfairly tarnish her reputation,” said Perales, who said he expects a fight from the far right and conservatives opposing Sotomayor. “The nation needs to know that LatinoJustice PRLDEF will come to her defense.”

Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza said, “Today is a monumental day for Latinos.” She added, “Finally, we see ourselves represented on the highest court in the land. Judge Sotomayor’s story personifies the American dream for so many Latinos in this country.”

Kim Gandy, who heads the National Organization for Women said in a press statement that her group cheers Obama’s selection.

Nominated to serve as the third woman and first Latina to serve on the high court in U.S. history, Sotomayor will serve with distinction, Gandy said, noting that “she brings a lifelong commitment to equality, justice and opportunity, as well as the respect of her peers, unassailable integrity, and a keen intellect informed by experience.” Gandy added that Obama wanted a justice with “towering intellect” and a “common touch” and “he has found both in Sotomayor.”

Marc H. Morial, president of the National Urban League, said in a statement that Obama made an outstanding choice in Sotomayor.

Morial said, “Because of the National Urban League’s long-standing commitment to civil rights and social justice, we have a unique responsibility to our constituents to carefully evaluate and influence important national issues, including nominations to the U.S. federal courts, which play a critical role in protecting the civil rights of African Americans.”

Morial continued, “In evaluating a federal judicial nomination, the NUL’s primary concern is whether a nominee’s record demonstrates a commitment to upholding civil rights, equality of opportunity and social justice. Our initial review of Judge Sotomayor’s record indicates that she meets these criteria.”

Wade Henderson, leader of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, praised Obama’s decision, saying Sotomayor is “someone with a sharp and independent mind, and leads with a record of excellence.” Henderson added, “Besides her superb intellectual ability and a distinguished three-decade judicial career, she brings a quality of common sense understanding of how laws affect the realities of people’s daily lives.”

Born in New York*, Sotomayor grew up in a housing project near Yankee Stadium in The Bronx. Her father, a factory worker, died when she was nine years old. Her mother, a nurse, put Sotomayor and her brother through school. Sotomayor’s brother went on to become a doctor, while she became a lawyer, graduating at the top of her class at both Princeton and Yale.

One of Sotomayor’s most famous decisions was during the 1994-95 Major League Baseball strike. She issued an injunction in favor of the players by barring “replacements” (i.e. scabs) and helped bring the strike to an early end.

Supporters of Sotomayor see her nomination as a step forward in the fight for affirmative action. White fire fighters in New Haven, Conn., brought suit against the city charging “reverse discrimination” because the city threw out a promotion test because no African Americans or Latinos scored high enough. Sotomayor supported the opinion upholding the city’s decision. The Supreme Court will hear the appeal.

National civil rights groups supporting Sotomayor’s nomination are looking to the Senate to proceed with the confirmation process in a fair and timely manner. They say they expect that senators from both parties will treat Sotomayor with the respect she deserves, examine her record thoughtfully, and perform their constitutional duty without undue delay or obstruction. Supporters of Sotomayor expect a swift confirmation by the Senate so she can join Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second woman on the high court before the Senate’s August recess.


*CORRECTION: In an earlier version of the story we reported that Judge Sotomayor was born in Puerto Rico, based on various incorrect media reports. We regret the error.