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SotomayerSonia Sotomayor (1954- ), one of the top judges in New York City, was chosen on May 26th 2009 by Barack Obama for the Supreme Court.

The Senate will hold its hearing, probably in July. Barring any ugly surprises, she is expected to pass easily: Democrats control 59% of the Senate. She would be the first ever Hispanic on the court and the third woman.

Sotomayor has degrees from top universities, Princeton and Yale, and has more experience as a judge than anyone named to the Supreme Court in the past 70 years.

Her views are centre left, well within the mainstream. She is closer to the centre than Obama himself. She will not change the balance on the court since she is taking the place of David Souter, also centre left.

The first female justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, once said a wise old man and a wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. To which Sotomayor said:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

And about being unaffected by her colour:

I wonder whether achieving that goal is possible in all or even in most cases. And I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of colour we do a disservice both to the law and to society.

Being Catholic she would make the court two-thirds Catholic – in a country that is mostly Protestant.

Sotomayer has not yet ruled on hot issues like abortion, the death penalty or gay marriage.

The case that is most likely to hurt her is Ricci v DeStefano: the New Haven fire department gave a test for some open positions for captain and lieutenant. When no blacks scored well it threw out the test: otherwise the black firefighters would take it to court for using a racist test. Instead the white ones did, arguing racism the other way. Sotomayor agreed with New Haven.

Sotomayor is Nuyorican – a Puerto Rican who grew up in New York. Her parents came from Puerto Rico to New York in 1944. Her father was a welder, her mother, a nurse. She grew up in the public housing projects of the Bronx (Soundview, Bronxdale Houses, Co-op City). Her family was the only one in the neighbourhood with an encyclopedia (Britannica). By 1964, at age ten, she knew she wanted to go into law like her hero on television, Perry Mason.

She went to Catholic school and then to Princeton on a scholarship. Princeton was like another country. She was in over her head, but she got help and graduated at the top of her class. She went on to Yale to get her law degree and was editor of the law review.  She came back to New York to practise law. In 1992 President Bush, the first one, made her a judge.

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