President Barack Obama's nomination Tuesday of federal appeals Judge Sonia Sotormayor was a bold move to bring diversity to a U.S. Supreme Court that consists of eight white men and one white woman.
His own election as the nation's first black president is historic in itself, but President Obama has now nominated what would be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and only the third woman. The president cited Judge Sotormayor's life experiences as a valuable resource for the high court, with an upbringing from Puerto Rican Bronx in New York City. Her father was a factory worker with a third-grade education who didn't speak English; her mother a nurse who worked six days a week after her husband died with Judge Sotormayor was 9.
She went on to earn degrees from Princeton University and Yale Law School. She was originally appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush and later nominated to the federal appellate court by President Bill Clinton.
It is true she will bring a wealth of life experiences to the high court, as well as diversity and as well as gender balance. What we find even more intriguing is the fact that she would be the only justice with trial court experience, having served as an assistant district attorney in New York. That life experience would also bring a unique position to the high court.
It appears Judge Sotormayor is well qualified and credentialed to hold the post of Supreme Court justice. But what remains to be seen is how she has served on the bench.
It will be up to the Senate to vet her career, to find out if she is an activist judge or a constitutional law judge. One thing is certain -- she most likely would not change the current stance in the land of Roe vs. Wade on abortion. And that should be given, with a Democratic abortion rights president. We assumed the same with a Republican anti-abortion president, and received justices with those same views.
We must move on from that issue to the overall judicial temperament of a Justice Sotormayor. Will she follow precedence in the law, or make new precedence? Will she show gender or racial bias, or appear totally open on all cases in making her judgments?
It will be up to the Senate to probe that, and the timeline is short. Justice David Souter will retire soon, and President Obama wants a new justice before Congress takes its August recess. We would urge, however, that Congress conduct a thorough job of vetting the potential justice, even if it takes up the new term, which starts the first Monday in October.
Choosing Supreme Court justices, since they serve for life, is one of the most important decisions a president can offer. The work now begins to ensure that President Obama's was a good decision.