After all the partisan rancor of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, the nation took another small step toward becoming a mature democracy when the Senate confirmed Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court in a 68-31 vote. Once she is formally sworn-in, Judge Sotomayor will be the nation’s 111th Justice on the Court, third female Justice, and the first Hispanic American to sit on the high Court. Understandably, her formal confirmation was an emotional moment for the nation’s Latino community but it is one in which we should all take pride and be thankful that we are alive to witness.
Despite tremendous progress Blacks and Latinos have made over time in the United States, the concept of justice remains elusive for these populations. Just look at the nation’s prison population and the disparity in arrests between Blacks, Latinos, and whites, and it is clear that race is still a major factor in how justice is dispensed or not. Perhaps it was no coincidence, but an act of divine intervention; that the arrest of Harvard scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates occurred in the midst of the Senate’s preparing to take up Judge Sotomayor’s nomination for consideration. Likewise timely, the ruling that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg can be deposed in the matter of a discrimination lawsuit brought by Black and Latino firefighters on the matter of testing came right before the vote, albeit indirectly a seeming vindication of Judge Sotomayor after conservatives criticized her opinion in the Ricci case out of New Haven.
True to form, conservatives tried to hide their racism in the flowery language of “strict constructionist” and “judicial activism” but at the end of the day, it was quite clear that the right simply rejected the fact that a Latina was qualified to sit on the Supreme Court. The confirmation hearing was an embarrassment for the Republican Party as Senators, led by Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, took turns trying to twist an honest statement Judge Sotomayor had made regarding her unique perspective as a Latina as an attack on white males. A pitiful display that revealed the insecurities of white, male conservatives and their fear that they are at risk of losing political power and relevance in a nation that is increasingly black and brown in hue.
We know that much of the noise during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing had nothing to do with this pick for the Court and everything to do with the next go round. We should all be forewarned and start preparing now for that battle. Republicans used Sotomayor to frame the debate around the President’s possible future nominations to the Supreme Court and lower federal courts. Only nine Republicans voted in Judge Sotomayor’s favor, a sure sign that the party is captive to the interests of a small, but vocal fringe element that is determined to make the GOP a party of extremism. The sharp and contentious tone of Court confirmations is no doubt a permanent fixture of Capitol Hill.
President Obama deserves praise for his choice of Judge Sotomayor. It turned out to be a brilliant pick, obviously, because she is highly qualified to serve but also because he did not skirt the issue of diversity when determining who would be his first nominee to the Supreme Court. The President demonstrated something that many of us have always argued, that predominantly white professional environments are a conscious choice because there is no shortage of qualified people of color who can fill positions. It is a lesson some private sector firms have learned but still evades many companies, not-for-profit organizations and philanthropic foundations, and government agencies. It is noteworthy that the first Black President had the courage and vision to appoint the first Hispanic to the nation’s highest Court. So much for all the rhetoric about a Black-Hispanic meltdown.
Judge Sotomayor’s life story, now well documented, is something that we can all point to with pride. Her place on the bench, in the black robe of a Supreme Court justice, will not only inspire Latinos but countless young women of all races and ethnicities to pursue their dreams. Against all the rhetoric of diversity and gender equality, Justice Sotomayor will serve as a real, live example of the possibilities of the American dream. We congratulate her and wish her well in her continued service to the nation.