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Sotomayor: inspired by 'Perry Mason'

The newest nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court is a 54-year-old federal appellate court judge who grew up in a housing project in the South Bronx, the oldest child of a couple from Puerto Rico who spoke no English.

Winning a scholarship to Princeton University and graduating from Yale Law School, where she was editor of the Law Review, Sonia Sotomayor has bipartisan credentials. She was appointed to the federal district court by a Republican president, George H.W. Bush, and elevated to the appellate court by a Democratic president, Bill Clinton.

Still, President Obama's pick to be the next Supreme Court justice, the first Latina on the court, is inspiring some opposition from Republicans who call her "an activist judge" for a statement she made at Duke University. In the statement -- clip below -- Sotomayor says that appellate courts drive policy.

Some conservatives have come to her defense, arguing that she was just stating the obvious, noting that the federal appellate courts are the first hearing for the issues that eventually reach the Supreme Court.

In any event, what strikes us as more interesting about the judge is this: While growing up poor and suffering childhood-onset diabetes, raised by a widowed mother and speaking no English until after her father died when she was 9 years old, she drew her inspiration from reading Nancy Drew detective stories and watching "Perry Mason" on TV. In one "Perry Mason" episode, the prosecutor was overruled by the judge, leading Sotomayor to conclude that the judge was the most important person in the courtroom.

"I thought, what a wonderful occupation to have," Sotomayor told the New York Times in a 1992 interview. "And I made the quantum leap: If that was the prosecutor's job, then the guy who made the decision to dismiss the case was the judge. That was what I was going to be."

-- Johanna Neuman

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What are the odds that the Repubs, in opposing the nominee, will come off sounding anti-hispanic and anti-female?

Great...let the border gates be swing wide open and let the illiegals come forward...more than they are now.

HORRIBLE CHOICE!!! This was nothing but shear propaganda. But I guess propaganda is expected from a socialist "president".

I am still waiting for the day when there is a Native American woman nominated fort he Supreme Court that rules her land.

She is not the first Latina--that word does not exist. She is the first Puerto Rican which is different from the first Mexican American. I hope people do not confuse this as a major step for Mexican Americans because it is not. I would have preferred a White guy like David Souter versus a woman who is suppose to represent those of us with Spanish last name. Mexican Americans are not the same as Puerto Ricans, I hope Obama knows the difference.

How totally predictable. The Messiah picked a judge who believes that appeals courts make policy. Sotomayor will certainly not let the law or the facts get in the way of what she wants to do.

What if a white male judge said white male judges make better decisions than female or latin judges?

Oh lawdy, la raza and the like would be doing backflips screaming for the person to be impeached and all such nonsense, but when a latina says it, no problem. Gotta love the double standards that racist minorities and their white guilt lackeys love to support.

"opponents ... will charge that Sotomayor will not serve as the sort of neutral "umpire" that Chief Justice John Roberts claimed to be during his confirmation hearings in 2005."

Thank you for the "claimed to be." His decisions since have shown him to be anything BUT neutral.

EVERY appointee claims to be neutral, but few if any turn out to be. That's because decisions of every single judge come from a human being with life experiences that make them interpret ambiguous words in accordance with that experience.

If the words of the law are not ambiguous, the case never GETS to the high court.

I see Obama is using that universal canard that judges should not "make" law. Those of us who have actually studied appellate law know that our judicial system is based on the English common law system in which the judges actually DID make the law. Judicial decisionmaking IS making the law no matter how many useful conservative idiots parrot their position that judges should "apply" not "make" law.

Sorry folks, but law is made by application of ambiguous words to actual facts. That's just the way it works.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's pick to become the newest Supreme Court justice, is on the record with some controversial remarks about 'diversity,' 'judicial activism' and female judges vs. male judges.

For example, the New York Times reported that in 2001, at the annual Judge Mario G. Olmos Law and Cultural Diversity Lecture, Sotomayor had this to say:

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

“Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences,” she said later, regarding non-white, female judges, “our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging.”

is this really the best pick obama could make?
i hope he isnt picking on ethnic or racial background. because these statements attributed by her are just down right nauseating

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life," Judge Sotomayor said. By implication, she believes that white males lead intellectually and socially impoverished lives. Such views make her unfit to be on the court.

What a terrible and predictable choice. She will be confirmed but will be worse than Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She openly opines that judges set policy from the bench. And she doesn't appear to be the brightest legal choice. Maybe she can explain how having empathy for a litigant helps decide the case. For me, the law is the law, no matter who the litigant is.

I think her remarks regarding how she would make a better decision versus a white male were decidedly bigoted. If a white person were to say anything even close to something this racist, they would be vilified, put out of a job, etc., etc. Basically America is not embracing diversity. Its just pulling power from one group to the other via demeaning the race that is SUPPOSEDLY in power.
I also think picking any person for a position like this because of their poor background is inappropriate. I think her choice is based more on race than qualifications and I think its wrong.

To Julian “She is the first Puerto Rican which is different from the first Mexican American.”

When it comes to discrimination, racism or even racial profiling it doesn’t matter what Spanish surname you have, if you’re brown and fit the criteria of stereotypes, then you’re no different than any brown person of color.

So what makes you so special besides being a racist?

The fact that as an appellate jusdge she refused to hear the case of white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut who were discriminated against in a recent Afirmative Action case is toublesome. It is apparent she comes to the job with the concept of minority entitlement and that only minorities can be discriminated againt ( a false notion) makes her unqualified in my book. If we're trying to get rid of activist judges who legislate from the bench Miss "Newyorkrican Sonia" is not a good place to start.

To Julian “She is the first Puerto Rican which is different from the first Mexican American.”

When it comes to discrimination, racism or even racial profiling it doesn’t matter what Spanish surname you have, if you’re brown and fit the criteria of stereotypes, then you’re no different than any brown person of color.

What nit picking!

Whether she's Latina, or Hispanic, or a white male, or whether the Appeals Courts makes "policy" (Isn't that what they do when the law is unclear?), isn't it great that someone not from a privileged background (but with great personal achievements) has been nominated to our highest court?

Hurray for the little guy ! (I mean gal).

Let's hope the Republicans treat her better than the Democrats and their specail interest Getapo have treated past Republican nominees for SCOTUS.

Why are people so up in arms when someone who is “different” from them is elected to any position in this country? Its it a form of racism—a learned misconception that the “other” person is totally void of intellect and capability to serve justly in a particular capacity? Racism, Political Dogma, or Racism Disguised as Political Dogma, dose nothing but stifles progress until that progress is slowed at the least, stopped at most. Here is a novel Ideal: Someone, who is not white, who is not male, and who was raised with that proverbial Silver spoon, could love this Nation just as much as anyone? I remember that immediately following the attacks of 9/11 there was a sort of air of goodwill and exaggerated sense courtesy towards one another. No matter what we thought of the “: other” in this country “WE” were under attack. You see, the Enemy of America doesn’t differentiate between a male American, A woman American, a White American, a Black America or a Hispanic American. The Enemy wanted to kill us ALL—because we were all AMERICANS. Tragic as that period our nations History was, it was one of the very few time that America and Her enemies were both on the same page: no matter what color, religion, social/economic/sexual status, we are ALL AMERICANS!

West Orange, NJ

Of course the US Supreme Court makes law. What else would it do? The Court picks and chooses the very few cases that come before it, and uses its choosing of suitable vehicles for its work, and its ultimate decision making power to form a decision based framework to be followed by lower courts that finally decide most cases. Those precedents, in the common law tradition, bind the lower courts to make decisions following the Supreme Court. In the same tradition, if "parliament" considers the decision making to be contrary to "government" policy, then "parliament" modifies the decision with legislation, either specifically for a single unsatisfactory to elected policy decision, or more generally by codifying a disapproved body of decisions in a new and redefined "law". The Courts, including ultimately the Supreme Court, then being the long task of interpreting the code. This process of judicial law making, and if seen to be necessary, periodic parliamentary resets, continues to bring out the best in lawmaking. When criticising a body like the Supreme Court, remember: There are some pretty good decision makers in the processes below the Supreme Court, and various lawmakers maintain, and exercise, the right to legislate for their elected, and therefore accountable policy choices. I see this judicial/parliamentary process with all its checks and balances as providing the best possible development of law. Most of the protection of rights must happen in the Courts below, were most Americans find their ultimate remedy. Not everyone can afford a remedy at the level of the US Supreme Court. There isn't the judicial time or the litigant money. For those who don't get that high in the system, or need to, protection comes from the framework provided to courts lower in the system by good elected decision making working hand in hand with good appellant decision making building a system of protection. The very best judicial minds should be the ones that make it to the Supreme Court, while merely the most popular or the best able to afford it make it to high elected office. I like the system. The tension between the two makes for better laws.

Wow. I'm all for having alternative perspectives in the supreme court, and as such believe diversity is a very important consideration.

But to say by virtue of being from a certain ethnic group, your opinions are better than those of another is racist.

One of the worst practices emerging in our culture is how pop culture and leaders like Obama value the "life journey" over more important traits like values, judgment, and character. Ugh.

I figured the right wing would want to dismiss her as too left. She heard the case involving the white firefighters. She applied the law as she saw it. That was her job. Just because the right wing didn't like her decision does not make her unfit for the SC. I don't believe the 2nd amendment has anything to do with people having a right to own AK-47's. The framers could NEVER have envisioned that. But Roberts, Scalia and the rest of the NRA (uh, right) wing of the Court seem to think so. So we are stuck with it. We never know what to expect from a new Justice to the Court. All we can hope for is justice. I think she will help maintain a balance to keep us away from the fascism of the right wing.

Read her full speech: she did NOT say anything at all racist. She was discussing bias at length and making the point that personal experience affects all judging - hardly radical or racist.v Read the speech instead of spouting repub talk points:

key excerpt:

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.

Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.

However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.

Whether she is yellow, brown, black, pasty or else....why does it matter?

She, however, has had the guts to say out-loud what most juris practice from the bench. They all make policy; but really isn't that what a lawyer does? INTERPRET THE LAW. When something is open to interpretation, we are going to have people interpreting to their liking.

Someday we will stop focusing on "the firsts" and will instead focuse on the character of the chosen person regardless of their color or last name.

It's all about minority, yes the year of the minority. The perception of putting a minority in office will make things better is a joke, they all sell out and are bought off like anyone else of majority color under this present corrupt system of government we live under.

You can be as altruistic as possible but look at the past fruits of some of the minorities in government at the highest level of office. What did Condi Rice accomplish, a yes mouthpiece for Bush who went along with his repeated lies. What did Janet Reno accomplish under Clinton, but kill a bunch of children and women in Waco and many many more examples are out there that space wouldn't allow me to write about.


She IS PUERTO RICAN not mexican. So all of you mexicans need to get a grip. Puerto Ricans want NOTHING to do with mexicans. NOTHING. Puerto Ricans have contributed to this country for DECADES. So for all you mexicans who have CONTINUALLY hated on Puerto Ricans because they ARE the bomb and mexicans AREN'T......... AHA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

Of course the Republicans will roll over no matter how liberal or activist she is. It's just the way they are, never willing to fight for their principals. I garuntee if Obama was a conservative Republican and had nomiated an activist conservative justice the Democrats and the liberal special interest groups would be up in arms and fighting it tooth and nail. The Republicans in the Senate are a bunch us wusses.

oh boy - affirmative action is back with a vengeance

The woman is clearly a sexist/racist. By claiming that her race makes her produce better opinions than whites she presents a clear-cut case of racism as defined in any relevant dictionary – thinking your abilities are superior to others simple because of your race. Also sexism in thinking that as a woman she is inherently superior with some magical ability that allows her to reach "better" conclusions than males.

Not that it matters, spineless Republicans are too busy worrying about the Hispanic vote while Democrats are busy applauding her for holding these racist/sexist views. No doubt the Democrats would be doing back flips if a white male had said anything resembling her comment, but hypocrisy in that party is nothing new.

As long as she upholds the law and enforces our borders I don't care what her origins are.

Why the media must always emphasize the unimportant is incredulous to me.

How does she stand on the issues?

This nominee has the "victim card" written all over her. It is obvious that she is carrying gender and racial baggage that will show up in areas where it does not belong. This was another bad choice by Obama, a choice that will portray him as someone who endorses gender and racial stereotypes, a move that will cost him support during the next election. This nominee should be dropped, and an emotionally mature nominee with no victim baggage should be chosen.

60% of her decisions have been overturned on appeal. Enough said. She does not have the judgment to be on the Court.

If you have any knowledge whatsoever of the different Spanish speaking communities, a Puerto Rican is not a Dominican is not a Guatemalan is not a Mexican is not a Venezuelan is not a Costa Rican is not a Salvadorean etc, etc.

Same goes for all the English and French and Dutch speaking nationalities in the Caribbean as well.

It's like calling any Anglo "English".

Rush Limbaugh is the Democrats best friend.

I hope the Republicans vigorously oppose Ms. Sotomayor's nomination. One more step in the footsteps of the Whigs.

Get rid of this lady!!!


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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