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By Pamela Gentry, Senior Political Analyst
May 26, 2009 – President Barack Obama’s selection of Judge Sonia Sotomayor will place the first American with Puerto Rican heritage on the path to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sotomayor’s childhood and the obstacles she faced may connect with the American people. Her humble background with working class immigrant parents could be one of the reasons Sotomayor was a standout pick from the list of 40 names – that was narrowed to four over the past weeks according to White House officials.
I was able to confirm at least one African American made “a list” but not the final four.
But it looks like the selection of Sotomayor is going over well with Black lawmakers. Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) released a statement applauding the nomination.
“As the first Latina nominated to the Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor brings brilliance and a common sense understanding of how the law practically works in the lives of all Americans and has repeatedly shown a commitment to the Constitutional values that are the bedrock of our nation,” Lee said.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) called Sotomayor a “superb pick.”
“The President has demonstrated that he is dedicated to nominating justices who have life experiences that will enable them to both sympathize and empathize with all Americans,” Clyburn said.
The East Room was packed Tuesday morning for the announcement. This was one of the largest turnouts by White House senior and support staff I’ve witnessed.
It was a who’s who of the Latino and Black communities. Among the guests I spotted civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton, NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous, executive director of the Urban League Mark H. Morial and Wade Henderson, CEO of the Civil Rights Conference of Civil Rights.
Sotomayor graduated from Princeton University and Yale Law School and worked as a city prosecutor and corporate litigator before donning the black robe. Both of her early career moves developed the skills White House officials point to as her added asset to the high court: Once Justice David Souter retires no other justice remaining on the court has trial law experience.
“I stand on the shoulders of countless people, yet there is one extraordinary person who is my life aspiration. That person is my mother, Celina Sotomayor.” Following roaring applause, Sotomayer added, “My mother has devoted her life to my brother and me. And as the president mentioned, she worked often two jobs to help support us after dad died. I have often said that I am all I am because of her, and I am only half the woman she is.”
The president praised the 54-year-old jurist for her accomplishments. “It’s a career that has given her not only 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,” Obama said.
Sotomayor, born in the South Bronx, comes to this nomination from Second Circuit where she was appointed by President Clinton. Her first appointment to the District Court of southern District of New York was by President George H.W. Bush.