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Point of Law-July 223, 2009

  • By G.Monty Manibog

(Editors note; Former Monterey Park Mayor Manibog is a regular columnist offering legal tips and perspectives in high profile legal cases and events to Journal readers.)
“I would think that wise Latina with the richness of her experience would more likely than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

This statement made by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor in a 2001 speech has come to haunt her repeatedly since President Obama nominated her to fill Justice Souter’s seat on the US. Supreme Court.

Issues of abortion rights and gun rights also confronted her at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearing and the white New Haven firefighters’ testimony, whose claim of reverse discrimination was rejected by Sotomayor’s Court of Appeals, also testified to impute racism and gender bias to the Puerto-Rican American Jurist, particularly since she was reversed by the Supreme Court on that case.

But despite efforts by the conservative senators to saddle Sotomayor with her earlier statements about ethnicity and gender swaying her decision, she has deftly sidestepped the traps laid out for her, insisting that “fidelity to the law” would be her guiding principals, not judicial  activism, rejecting her “wise Latina” comment as a rhetorical rift” that took on a meaning opposite to what she had intended.

What is indisputable and what makes Sotomayor uniquely qualified to serve on the high court are her academic background and judicial experience on the U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals. Graduating from Princeton University, Summa Cum Laude (highest honors), she entered Yale Law School on a full scholarship and became editor of the Yale Law Journal. As a hard hitting criminal prosecutor in New York, a corporate law litigator in private practice and serving 17 years thereafter on the federal court bench, her combined professional experience is rarely matched by other Supreme Court justices, and her record of court decisions belie the image of a liberal, left leaning judge some would portray her to be.

There have been press reports suggesting two different Sotomayor personalities: one of a Latina liberal firebrand espousing race and genderrevelancy; and the other, the federal court of appeals judge whose moderate judicial opinions reflect a more centrist, mainstream judicial philosophy. So which is the true Sotomayor?

In the final analysis, the Senate Judiciary Committee will likely rely more on her judicial record and opinions that on private speeches and off the cuff remarks that are susceptible to various interpretations in confirming her nomination.

I would predict a unanimous or near unanimous committee vote (even from Republicans) in confirming the Sotomayor nomination.
Thus, look to Sotomayor’s historical ascension to the third co-equal branch of government as she becomes the first Latino – man or woman – to don the black robe of the United States Supreme Court, matching Thurgood Marshall’s own history making appointment as the first black Supreme Court Justice on June 13, 1967.


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