Emotions high at White House for “Puerto Rican girl” Sotomayor
President Barack Obama took a break from his tough fight over healthcare reform on Wednesday to throw a victory party for Sonia Sotomayor, who on Saturday was sworn in as the first Hispanic and third woman justice in the 220-year-long history of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sotomayor, Obama’s first nominee to the highest U.S. court, was praised for breaking barriers not only for her ethnic background and gender, but also for her unique history as a justice who was raised in humble New York City surroundings as the child of a single Puerto Rican mother.
“It is this nation’s faith in a more perfect union that allowed a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx to stand here now,” Sotomayor told the crowd in a packed East Room, who responded with applause, loud cheers and a standing ovation. “I am struck again today by the wonder of my own life and the life we in America are so privileged to lead,” she said.
Republicans who had opposed the nomination had charged that Sotomayor lacked impartiality by zeroing in on her past comments that a “wise Latina” woman might reach a better decision than a white man. Obama’s remarks touched on that controversy, by citing not just Sotomayor’s credentials as a lawyer and judge, but also insight she had gained due to her upbringing. “Her life is one of those ‘only in America’ stories,” he said.
In replacing the retired Justice David Souter, Sotomayor is not expected to change the court’s ideological balance. Souter sided with the liberal wing of the court, which in recent years has often issued 5-4 rulings in favor of conservatives. Two members of the court’s liberal wing, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens, were the only two justices to attend Wednesday’s reception.
Activists, particularly from the U.S. Hispanic community, have hailed Sotomayor’s appointment. “This is a good day,” said Fernando Negron, 32, a radio host and community activist from Orlando, Florida, whose father moved to the mainland United States from Puerto Rico, who was a guest at the reception.
“My father came here back in the 1950s, so he went through what her mother went through. So you get a little emotional for the people who allowed this to happen.”
Photo credit: President Barack Obama and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, REUTERS/Jim Young
Photo credit: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, REUTERS/Jason Reed