Sonia Sotomayor nominated to the Supreme Court

Earlier today President Obama nominated federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor to become the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court.

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She would replace Justice David Souter.  If confirmed fifty-four year old Judge Sotomayor would become the second woman on the court joining Ruth Bader Ginsburg and only the third woman to ever sit on the court.  Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was the first female Justice of the Supreme Court.

Obama Chooses Sotomayor for Supreme Court

By Michael Shear, Debbi Wilgoren and Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writers

President Obama this morning nominated U.S. Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor of New York to replace retiring Justice David Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court, hailing her as “an inspiring woman” with a moving personal story and broad professional experience who would bring new perspective to the court.

If confirmed, Sotomayor, 54, would be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and only the third woman ever to sit on the panel. She grew up in a Bronx housing project, went on to Princeton University and Yale Law School, and has stirred controversy by saying that judges’ legal findings are informed by their own life experiences as well as their legal research.

Judge Sotomayor, who’s of Puerto Rican descent, was born in the Bronx and grew up in a housing project in the South Bronx. She graduated from Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx, earned her B.A.from Princeton University in 1976 where she graduated summa cum laude, and obtained her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal.

You can read more about Judge Sotomayor in the New York Times article, Kid From the Bronx With Hopes and Doubts and the Washington Post article For Sotomayor, Humble Beginnings to High Court Pick.  Also check out the slideshow provided by the New York Times.

Republicans seem to be split on her nomination. Some feel that going after Judge Sotomayor with guns blazing could send a wrong message to latino voters.  Others feel that she’s too liberal with some hollering filibuster before her name was even announced.

There seem to be some questions regarding whether Judge Sotomayor would become the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.  Some are saying Justice Benjamin Cardozo, who was a Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1932 until his death in 1938, was Hispanic.  Justice Cardoza was of Portuguese and Jewish ancestry.  In Portugal they speak Portuguese not Spanish.  According to this blog post by Robert Schlesinger at US News & World Report:

It’s been widely reported that Judge Sonia Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court, though a few people (including some TV commentators) have wondered whether Justice Benjamin Cardozo (on the court from 1932-1938) should not in fact be counted as such.

The answer seems to be that Sotomayor would in fact be the first Hispanic, but it also points up the problem inherent in the term Hispanic.

Cardozo, Josh Marshall reports, was of Portuguese ancestry (Cardozo biographer Andrew Kaufman says that Cardozo “family legend” has them coming from Portugal, but without “firm documentation about the particulars”). Which brings us to the critical question: What sort of ancestry qualifies as Hispanic? There are three strikes against the Cardozo-as-Hispanic thesis, all having to do with the fact that Portuguese natives speak … Portuguese (rather than Spanish).

* A TPM reader notes that the Associated Press defines Hispanic as coming from a Spanish-speaking country, and distinguishes Hispanic from those of Brazilian and Portuguese descent.

* Webster’s dictionary defines Hispanic thusly: “Of or relating to the language, people, or culture of Spain or Spanish-speaking Latin America.”

* The U.S. Census uses the Office of Management and Budget’s definition of Hispanic: “The term ‘Hispanic’ refers to persons who trace their origin or descent to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central and South America, and other Spanish cultures.”

Portugal is on the Iberian peninsula, but is most certainly not Spanish. So Cardozo is not Hispanic. Or, presumably, Latino (the Census asks people whether they are Hispanic or Latino, since the words have different meanings in different parts of the country).

In my eyes Judge Sonia Sotomayor would become the first Hispanic/Latino Supreme Court Justice.

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