Newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has made a lot of judges and lawyers proud in Queens.
In a 68-31 vote on August 6, the Senate confirmed Judge Sonia Sotomayor, 55, as the 111 Supreme Court Justice – making her the first Hispanic to hold that position and only the third woman in the history of the United States.
The road towards confirmation began on May 26 when President Barack Obama nominated the then Second Circuit Court Judge. And despite original speculations that Sotomayor’s confirmation would be bipartisan, in the end only eight Republicans broke from the party to confirm the Bronx native of Puerto Rican descent.
Local reaction to Sotomayor’s confirmation echoed the sentiments expressed not just by Obama in his post confirmation press appearance.
CUNY Law School Professor Jenny River, who initially led letter writing campaigns to encourage Obama to nominate Sotomayor and then had letters sent to senators to help sway their votes, said Sotomayor’s confirmation has reminded people – not just Latinos – who feel that they don’t have access to the tools and resources to succeed that “they can’t give up on their dreams.”
“I think it’s an inspiration even for [those of] us who aren’t youths, even for [those of] us who are lawyers and professionals,” said Rivera. “It reminds us that there is still more to be done and much further to go.”
Rivera added that while Sotomayor was mischaracterized by the Republicans in the hearings as not being up to the task, looking forward, Sotomayor will also certainly be scrutinized when she votes on cases, authors her first opinion, and most definitely, when a case of particular interest to the Latino community goes up against the
“For those of us who follow this there will be an interest to what goes on in those cases,” Rivera said. “And with Justice Sotomayor on the Court it will be of particular interest to the Latino community just as when a Latino politician speaks and people want to hear what they want to say.”
Queens Civil Court Judge Carmen Velasquez remarked on the significance of the event.
“[August 6] was in fact one of the proudest days of my life,” said Carmen Velasquez, who watched the confirmation with members of the Puerto Rican Bar Association. Velasquez first met Sotomayor 21 years ago when Velasquez served as an Assistant District Attorney (ADA) in Bronx County and Sotomayor served as an ADA in Manhattan. Velasquez a civil court judge became a judge merely seven months ago.
“This accomplishment represents what we’ve said – that if you work hard and go to school you can get any job you want even a Supreme Court Justice.”
To become a federal judge, Velasquez explained, is a very difficult and prestigious accomplishment and nationwide only 72 federal court judges are Latino. Sotomayor became the first Latina federal judge in New York in 1992 with her appointment by President George H. Bush to the United States District Court for the Southern District. President Bill Clinton appointed her to Circuit Court bench in 1998. Appointments to the federal courts are lifetime appointments.
“She was an inspiration then and she’s an inspiration now,” Velasquez said.
To attorney Z. Elena Gonzalez said Sotomayor’s confirmation hopefully symbolizes a change in thinking in our country.
“This is a sign of our times to have someone with her background,” said Gonzalez, a general practitioner based in Jackson Heights. “She’s a really a role-model for all women and even for my daughter whose seven.”
Justice Sotomayor was sworn in on Saturday, August 8 at 11 a.m. at the Supreme Court of the United States first by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. who in a private ceremony will preside over the Constitutional Oath. The public Judicial Oath ceremony took place moments later and was televised.
Another ceremony, with a special sitting of the Court in the Courtroom, will take place on place on Tuesday, September 8, at 2 p.m.