There is little doubt that Federal Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor, when and if she is confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice, will be a role model.
As the first Latina on the bench, she would be both a jurist and a constant reminder that this is a richly-diverse and multicultural country that is at its best when we encourage the children of all Americans — no matter what their race, ethnicity, gender or class — to study hard, work hard and achieve great things.
National Council of La Raza president Janet Murguía said it best after President Obama announced his selection of Judge Sotomayor to replace retiring Justice David Souter.
“Today is a monumental day for Latinos,” declared Murguía. “Finally, we see ourselves represented on the highest court in the land. Judge Sotomayor’s story personifies the American Dream for so many Latinos in this country.”
While some suggest that former Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo, a Sephardic Jew who traced his own family ties to the Iberian Peninsula, was the first Hispanic to serve on the high court, there can be no question that Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation would bring a new measure of diversity to the court by adding to its bench a Latina with a clear and vital connection to a native-born and immigrant community that is transforming America for the better. (Notably, Cardozo, one of the most highly-regarded jurists of the 20th century, was the last Supreme Court nominee with judicial experience comparable to Sotomayor’s.)
Sotomayor is, as well, the product of a working-class background. The daughter of a factory worker and a nurse in a methadone clinic, she grew up in the South Bronx and later the East Bronx, neighborhoods of a New York City borough that served for a time when she was young as something of a national symbol of urban decay. She teaches powerful lessons about how to survive and thrive in tough, challenging settings.
But Sotomayor’s most important service as a role model may be as a Type 1 diabetic — someone who has, since the age of eight, had to deal with what has variously been referred to as “childhood,” “juvenile” or “insulin-dependent” diabetes.
This is a big deal.
If she is confirmed by the Senate, Sotomayor would be the third woman on the Supreme Court.