President Barack Obama announced today that his nominee to fill the position on the U.S. Supreme Court being vacated by Justice David Souter will be Sonia Sotomayor. Judge Sotomayor is currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which hears appeals from federal district courts in the states of Connecticut, New York, and Vermont.
If Judge Sotomayor, 54, is confirmed as is expected, she will be the first Hispanic and third female justice on the Supreme Court, and the second woman to be currently serving (along with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg). Judge Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and received her law degree from Yale Law School and was editor of the Yale Law Journal. President George H.W. Bush appointed her to the federal bench at the district court level, and then President William Jefferson Clinton appointed her to the Court of Appeals.
Judge Sotomayor is perhaps best known for ending the 1995 baseball strike as a district judge by ruling against the owners, saying that they were "trying to subvert the system." Of more interest to employers, she was on a Second Circuit panel that affirmed the dismissal of reverse discrimination claims brought by white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut. The city had dispensed with a promotion examination after determining that most minority candidates did not score well enough to be considered for promotion. The Supreme Court has agreed to review that decision and heard oral argument on April 22.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that Judge Sotomayor had an exemplary record and that "[H]aving a Supreme Court that better reflects the diversity of America helps ensure that we keep faith with the words . . . 'Equal justice under law.'"
However, the judge is already drawing fire from Republicans for comments made in 2002 that implied that her ethnic background and sex could enhance her judicial performance: "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."
Whatever her philosophies, Judge Sotomayor's appointment is unlikely to result in any dramatic changes in the short term because Justice Souter also tended to take "liberal" positions. It is noteworthy that her appointment marks the first appointment of a Supreme Court Justice by a Democratic president since 1994, when President Clinton appointed Justice Stephen Breyer to the Court.
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