Sotomayor Steps Up: “I Strive Never to Forget the Real-World Consequences of My Decisions”


Say what you will about identity politics, it plays well with crowds. The Sotomayor announcement began with prolonged, joyful applause. “Well, I’m excited too,” said Obama.

Then he tried to ground things a bit: “Of the many responsibilities granted to the President by the Constitution,” he said, “few are more serious or consequential than choosing a Supreme Court Justice… I don’t take this decision lightly.”

He started by playing it down the middle, referring to the “limits of judicial law” and “respect for precedent,” and saying judges shouldn’t try to make policy. But he also quoted Oliver Wendell Holmes –“The life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience” — in support of his choice of “an inspiring woman whom I believe will make a great Justice.”

Obama ticked off the highlights of Sotomayor’s “distinguished career that spans three decades — “big city prosecutor” (serving under “the legendary Robert Morgenthau”), “corporate litigator,” and service on New York’s Second Circuit (“one of the most demanding circuits in the country”). He emphasized that she will “replace Justice Souter as the only Justice with experience as a trial judge,” and that she was “appointed to U.S. District Court by a Republican President, George H.W. Bush.” Take that, haters!

Obama also said Sotomayor will have “more varied experience on the bench than any previous Justice,” and that her decision on the baseball strike of 1994-95 was made “with a swiftness much appreciated by baseball fans everywhere… some say that Judge Sotomayor saved baseball,” leading to another round of applause.

But of course biography was part of the sell: In addition to her “sterling credentials in the law,” Sotomayor grew up “in a housing project near Yankee Stadium,” her late father “didn’t speak English” but had “a willingness to work hard… and faith in the American Dream,” and her mother worked two jobs to provide for her and her brother and bought “the only set of encyclopedia in the neighborhood,” so great was her belief in education.

The President added that young Sonia was a fan of Nancy Drew, but when she learned at age eight that she had asthma, which presumably precluded a life in law enforcement, she “had to scale back her dreams.” Her success, he said, shows that “it doesn’t matter… what challenges life throws your way.”

Sotomayor, speaking with a hint of a Bronx accent, thanked “the many friends and family who have guided and supported me all my life… my heart today is bursting with gratitude.” She described her mother’s example as
“my life’s aspiration… she has devoted her life to my brother and me, as as the President mentioned, often worked two jobs… I am only half the woman she is.”

Then she got to the legal stuff. “I find endless challenge in the complexities of the law,” she said. “I firmly believe in the rule of law as the foundation of our rights.” She praised the founding fathers, and said their “principles are as meaningful and relevant in each generation” as they were in days gone by, and she looked forward to “applying their principles to the questions and controversies that we face today.” Nonetheless, she added, “I strive never to forget the real-world consequences of my decisions.”

As for the Senate, which must now approve her, she hoped “they will see that I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences.”