This morning, President Obama announced the nomination of Federal Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. If confirmed, Sotomayor, 54, would replace Justice David Souter, who recently announced his retirement after 19 years of service. Sotomayor would be the third woman appointed to the Supreme Court and the first Hispanic.
Part of Sotomayor’s appeal to Obama undoubtedly involves her humble beginnings. The child of Puerto Rican parents, Sotomayor grew up in a Bronx housing project, was diagnosed with childhood diabetes at age 8 and lost her father at age 9. Despite these hardships, Sotomayor attended Princeton University and went on to Yale Law School, where she became editor of the Yale Law Review.
Sotomayor gained notoriety for a decision she made in 1995 as a district court judge, where she ended a baseball players’ strike that, she wrote, “placed the entire concept of collective bargaining on trial,” and is considered by many – including President Obama — to have saved the sport through this decision.
Sotomayor was appointed as a Federal District Judge by President George H.W. Bush in 1991, and later appointed to the 2nd Circuit by President Bill Clinton in 1997, giving her a bipartisan appeal that will be helpful in enduring Republican scrutiny through the appointment process. While considered to be very likely to side with the liberal contingent of the Court, this will probably not cause a great shift in the Court’s dynamic, as Souter generally sided with the Court liberals on close decisions.
Much of the controversy regarding Sotomayor’s appointment will likely revolve around her recent involvement in Ricci v. New Haven, a “reverse discrimination” suit by white firefighters in New Haven over the city’s discarding of a promotion test because no African-Americans performed well on the examination. Sotomayor joined a panel that rejected the firefighters’ lawsuit. The case is currently being considered by the Supreme Court, and if they reverse the panel decision, this could be seen as an implicit criticism of Sotomayor’s viability.
Generally, however, Sotomayor has sided with the plaintiffs in cases involving discrimination based on race, sex, and disabilities. Her dissent in Gant v. Wallingford Board of Education labeled the transfer of a black student from first-grade to kindergarten due to academic difficulties – only nine days after arriving at a new school – as “clear race discrimination” and the denial of an “equal chance” for the student to prove himself.
While Sotomayor has not spoken directly to abortion rights, she did reject the protests of an abortion rights group over the “Mexico City Rule”, which prohibited foreign organizations receiving U.S. funds from performing or supporting abortions, in Center for Reproductive Law and Policy v. Bush. In writing the opinion, she determined that the government “is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position” with public funds.