By Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif)
July 15, 2009 — Confirmation hearings for President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, are taking place this week. Nominations are voted on by the Senate, not the House, but I am following the proceedings with interest because of the importance of the Supreme Court and this historic nomination.
If she is confirmed – as I hope and expect she will be – Sonia Sotomayor will become the first Hispanic and only the 3rd woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
Sonia Sotomayor has served already as a federal judge for 17 years including currently on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, one of our nation’s highest courts, where she has compiled a distinguished record. She previously worked as a prosecutor, a civil rights advocate and in private practice, giving her a range of legal experience.
Judge Sotomayor grew up in humble circumstances and faced significant challenges that I think many of us can relate to: her parents left Puerto Rico and moved to New York where her father was a factory worker. He died when she was nine, so she and her brother were raised by a hard-working single mother. They lived in a housing project in the Bronx.
She learned early on that the key to success is education, and she excelled in the classroom, earning scholarships to Princeton and Yale Law School.
Her life is an inspirational American success story.
I believe that the focus of Senators should be on Judge Sotomayor’s outstanding legal career, the cases she has decided and opinions she has written.
However, much discussion currently focuses on her life experiences, and indeed she and her supporters have cited her background as significant.
To what extent is this relevant? Judge Sotomayor has an exceptional professional record, and her years of service as a judge, as well as the intelligence and hard work she has demonstrated, make her highly qualified. For these reasons, she should be confirmed.
However, I think we can also recognize that as a woman and as a Latina, she brings a unique perspective to her job, one that has never been represented on the Supreme Court.
Although women make up more than half of our population, the Court has most recently had only 1 female among its 9 Justices. Despite a Hispanic population of approximately 50 million, America has never had a Hispanic Justice.
To be representative of the great diversity of our nation, it is important that more women and more racial and ethnic minorities serve as judges in state and federal courts. Our government draws its authority from the consent of the governed, and this consent continues only as long as the American people have confidence that our laws will be applied and enforced fairly for everyone.
Serving on the House Judiciary Committee, I work to promote equality and fairness. I understand that America does not always live up to its ideals. At times the legal system fails to uphold the law equally or to provide full protection for all. I believe that someone who has experienced life from the perspective of living in poverty, as a woman and a member of a minority group will be sensitive to injustice and recognize the impact of her decisions on the lives of ordinary people.
Over the years the Supreme Court has issued decisions that have profoundly affected our nation and helped define and protect the fundamental rights of all Americans. In moments when a president or Congress were unable or unwilling to do the right thing to help us overcome discrimination and prejudice, courts have acted to advance the civil rights of African Americans and other minorities.
I am confident that Sonia Sotomayor will apply the law equally and impartially, interpret the Constitution wisely and fairly, and be an outstanding Supreme Court Justice.
What qualifications and qualities are most important for serving on the Supreme Court?