TOPICS > Politics

Obama Nominates Sotomayor to Be Court’s First Hispanic Female Justice

May 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
Loading the player...
Judy Woodruff recaps President Obama's announcement of his nomination of Federal Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: President Obama nominated Federal Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court today. If confirmed by the Senate, she would be the first Hispanic and third woman to serve on the high court.

We’ll report the other major stories of this day, including the California Supreme Court’s upholding a ban on gay marriage and six American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. That follows our full lead story coverage of the Supreme Court nomination, which Judy Woodruff now begins.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president, Vice President Biden, and the nominee entered the East Room of the White House with broad smiles.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: I have decided to nominate an inspiring woman who I believe will make a great justice: Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the great state of New York.

Obama's praise for Sotomayor

President Barack Obama
Walking in the door, she would bring more experience on the bench and more varied experience on the bench than anyone currently serving on the United States Supreme Court had when they were appointed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And with that, Mr. Obama launched into a glowing report of Sotomayor's legal background.

BARACK OBAMA: Over a distinguished career that spans three decades, Judge Sotomayor has worked at almost every level of our judicial system, providing her with a depth of experience and a breadth of perspective that will be invaluable as a Supreme Court justice.

It's a measure of her qualities and her qualifications that Judge Sotomayor was nominated to the U.S. District Court by a Republican president, George H.W. Bush, and promoted to the federal court of appeals by a Democrat, Bill Clinton.

Walking in the door, she would bring more experience on the bench and more varied experience on the bench than anyone currently serving on the United States Supreme Court had when they were appointed.

Judge Sotomayor is a distinguished graduate of two of America's leading universities. She's been a big-city prosecutor and a corporate litigator. She's spent six years as a trial judge on the U.S. district court and would replace Justice Souter as the only justice with experience as a trial judge, a perspective that would enrich the judgments of the court.

For the past 11 years, she has been a judge on the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit of New York, one of the most demanding circuits in the country.

During her tenure on the district court, she presided over roughly 450 cases. One case in particular involved a matter of enormous concern to many Americans, including me: the baseball strike of 1994-'95. In a decision that reportedly took her just 15 minutes to announce -- a swiftness much appreciated by baseball fans everywhere -- she issued an injunction that helped end the strike. Some say that Judge Sotomayor saved baseball.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In that ruling, the judge sided with major league players over the owners. The strike had forced the cancellation of the World Series in 1994.

In another notable case, Sotomayor ruled against white firefighters who sued the city of New Haven, Connecticut, alleging reverse discrimination. That case is now before the Supreme Court.

Beyond her long record on the bench, Sotomayor's personal story also drew praise from the president.

Emphasis on education

BARACK OBAMA: Born in the South Bronx, she was raised in a housing project not far from Yankee Stadium. Sonia's parents came to New York from Puerto Rico during Second World War, her mother as part of the Women's Army Corps.

And, in fact, her mother is here today, and I'd like us all to acknowledge Sonia's mom.

Sonia's mother began a family tradition of giving back to this country. Sonia's father was a factory worker with a third-grade education who didn't speak English. But like Sonia's mother, he had a willingness to work hard, a strong sense of family, and a belief in the American dream.

When Sonia was nine, her father passed away. And her mother worked six days a week as a nurse to provide for Sonia and her brother, who's also here today, is a doctor and a terrific success in his own right.

But Sonia's mom bought the only set of encyclopedias in the neighborhood, sent her children to a Catholic school called Cardinal Spellman out of the belief that with a good education here in America all things are possible.

With the support of family, friends and teachers, Sonia earned scholarships to Princeton, where she graduated at the top of her class, and Yale Law School, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal, stepping onto the path that led her here today.

Along the way, she's faced down barriers, overcome the odds, lived out the American dream that brought her parents here so long ago. And even as she has accomplished so much in her life, she has never forgotten where she began, never lost touch with the community that supported her.

What Sonia will bring to the Court, then, is not only the knowledge and experience acquired over a course of a brilliant legal career, but the wisdom accumulated from an inspiring life's journey.

It's my understanding that Judge Sotomayor's interest in the law was sparked as a young girl by reading the Nancy Drew series... and that, when she was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of eight, she was informed that people with diabetes can't grow up to be police officers or private investigators like Nancy Drew. And that's when she was told she'd have to scale back her dreams.

Well, Sonia, what you've shown in your life is that it doesn't matter where you come from, what you look like, or what challenges life throws your way. No dream is beyond reach in the United States of America.

Sotomayor thanks mother

Sonia Sotomayor
Supreme Court nominee
I strive never to forget the real-world consequences of my decisions on individuals, businesses and government.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Then it was the nominee's turn to say a few words.

JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, Supreme Court Justice Nominee: Thank you, Mr. President, for the most humbling honor of my life. You have nominated me to serve on the country's highest court, and I am deeply moved.

I stand on the shoulders of countless people, yet there is one extraordinary person who is my life aspiration. That person is my mother, Celina Sotomayor. My mother has devoted her life to my brother and me. And as the president mentioned, she worked often two jobs to help support us after Dad died. I have often said that I am all I am because of her and I am only half the woman she is. I chose to be a lawyer, and ultimately a judge, because I find endless challenge in the complexities of the law. I firmly believe in the rule of law as the foundation for all of our basic rights. For as long as I can remember, I have been inspired by the achievement of our founding fathers. They set forth principles that have endured for more than two centuries. Those principles are as meaningful and relevant in each generation as the generation before. It would be a profound privilege for me to play a role in applying those principles to the questions and controversies we face today.

I did work as an assistant district attorney, prosecuting violent crimes that devastate our communities. But then I joined a private law firm and worked with international corporations doing business in the United States. I have had the privilege of serving as a Federal District Court trial judge and am now serving as a Federal Appellate Circuit Court judge.

This wealth of experiences, personal and professional, have helped me appreciate the variety of perspectives that present themselves in every case that I hear. It has helped me to understand, respect and respond to the concerns and arguments of all litigants who appear before me, as well as to the views of my colleagues on the bench.

I strive never to forget the real-world consequences of my decisions on individuals, businesses and government.

Facing conservative resistance

Curt Levey
Committee for Justice
We think a judge's job is to decide the case before them based on the law and the facts, not to favor one side because they have more empathy for one side or the other, and not to usurp the job of the legislature by making policy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The nomination was well received by the League of United Latin American Citizens and its spokesperson, Brent Wilkes.

BRENT WILKES, League of United Latin American Citizens: The rest of America really hasn't been well represented on the Supreme Court. And so finally now we'll have somebody who will be there that can understand the community. And that matters when they look at law and they look at these cases, because everybody has a unique perspective.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But conservative groups criticized Sotomayor for statements like this one at Duke University in 2005.

JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR: ... Court of Appeals is where policy is made. And I know -- and I know this is on tape, and I should never say that, because we don't make law. I know.

I know. I'm not promoting it, and I'm not advocating it. I'm, you know...

JUDY WOODRUFF: Curt Levey of the Committee for Justice said that kind of thinking is a reason not to confirm Sotomayor.

CURT LEVEY, Committee for Justice: We think a judge's job is to decide the case before them based on the law and the facts, not to favor one side because they have more empathy for one side or the other, and not to usurp the job of the legislature by making policy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In the Senate, Democrat Chuck Schumer warned Republicans, saying, "She is a mainstream justice. Why would they oppose her? There's really no good reason."

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell promised fair treatment. But he said, quote, "We will thoroughly examine her record to ensure she understands that the role of a jurist in our democracy is to apply the law even-handedly."

Sotomayor's ascension up the Supreme Court's marble steps now waits for confirmation hearings, which could begin in a few weeks.