Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 'No words can adequately express what I am feeling'
The first Latino Supreme Court justice was introduced today by the first African American president of the United States at a White House that has seen so many firsts in the last few months historians may some day marvel at the speed of change.
Both of them teared up.
At a reception in the East Room honoring Sonia Sotomayor, the newest Supreme Court justice, President Obama said, "We're here not just to celebrate our extraordinary new Supreme Court justice. We're here to celebrate an extraordinary moment for our nation…. We celebrate the greatness of a nation in which such a story is possible.''
With a host of activists, officials and relatives looking on -- including New York Gov. David Paterson, New York Dist. Atty. Robert Morgenthau and Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens -- Obama talked about how Sotomayor has already influenced Americans.
"It's not just about her," Obama said. "It's about every child who will grow up thinking to his or herself, 'If Sonia Sotomayor can make it, then maybe I can too.' "
But it was really the court's new, 111th justice who stole the show.
No longer in the brightly colored jackets of her confirmation hearings but dressed all in black, Sotomayor said that "no words can adequately express what I am feeling." Thanking her family and her colleagues, the president and the Senate, she said, "I am so grateful to all of you for this extraordinary opportunity."
But she gave most of the credit to America. Saying she was "struck by the wonder of my life," Sotomayor added, "I am most grateful to....
...this country....This would never have been possible without the opportunities presented to me by this country."
And then she brought the crowd to its feet when she added, "It is this nation's faith in a more perfect union that allows a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx to stand here now."
The two embraced, and history was made.
Watch the video in the full transcript below.
-- Johanna Neuman
Transcript of remarks by President Obama and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, as prepared by the White House, Aug. 12, 2009:
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody, and welcome to the White House. I am glad all of you could be with us today as we honor the newest member of our highest Court who I'm proud to address, for the very first time, as Justice Sonia Sotomayor. (Applause.)
We are also honored to be joined by Justice Sotomayor's new colleagues. We have Justice Ginsburg who is here -- (applause) -- as well as Justice Stevens. So I just want to thank both Justice Stevens and Justice Ginsburg not only for being here today, but for your extraordinary service on the Court. And I know you'll be giving Justice Sotomayor some good tips. (Laughter.)
I also want to thank everyone who's worked so hard to bring us to this day. I want to thank especially our Judiciary Committee Chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy -- (applause) -- as well as our Senate Majority Leader, Senator Reid -- (applause) -- for their outstanding work to complete this process before the August recess.
I want to thank Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand, both of whom are Justice Sotomayor's home-state senators, for their extraordinary work on her behalf. I want to thank all the members of Congress who've taken the time to join us here at the White House event. And I want to acknowledge all the advocates and groups who organized and mobilized and supported these efforts from the very beginning. Your work was absolutely critical to our success, and I appreciate all that you've done. So pat yourselves on the back. Congratulations. (Applause.)
Two members of Congress that I just especially want to acknowledge -- Senator Bob Menendez, who worked so hard on the Senate side. (Applause.) And Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, who is our chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. (Applause.)
And I think we all want to take a moment to recognize the woman who, in so many ways, truly made this day possible -- Justice Sotomayor's mother, Celina Sotomayor. (Applause.) Mrs. Sotomayor is here with her husband, Omar; and Justice Sotomayor's brother, Juan; and other members of their family. And we're thrilled that they could join us here today.
And by the way -- I don't normally do this, but let me also just thank my extraordinary White House staff who helped to usher this stuff through. We're very proud of them. (Applause.) Thank you very much.
Of course, we're here not just to celebrate our extraordinary new Supreme Court justice and all those who've been a part of her journey to this day. We're here, as well, to celebrate an extraordinary moment for our nation. We celebrate the impact Justice Sotomayor has already had on people across America who have been inspired by her exceptional life story.
We celebrate the greatness of a country in which such a story is possible. And we celebrate how, with their overwhelming vote to confirm Justice Sotomayor, the United States Senate –- Republicans and Democrats -- tore down yet one more barrier and affirmed our belief that in America, the doors of opportunity must be open to all.
With that vote, the Senate looked beyond the old divisions and they embraced excellence. They recognized Justice Sotomayor's intellect, her integrity, and her independence of mind; her respect for the proper role of each branch of government; her fidelity to the law in each case that she hears; and her devotion to protecting our core constitutional rights and liberties.
Justice William Brennan once said that in order for government to ensure those rights for all its citizens, government officials must be attentive to the concrete human realities at stake in the decisions they make. They must understand, as Justice Brennan put it, "the pulse of life beneath the official version of events." The pulse of life beneath the official version of events.
Justice Sotomayor understands those realities because she's witnessed them firsthand as a prosecutor, a litigator, and a judge, working to uphold our laws, keep our communities safe, and give people the chance to live out their dreams -- work that she has done with devotion, with distinction, and with an unyielding commitment to give back to this country that has given her so much.
And she understands these things because she's lived these things -- because her life is one of those "only in America" stories: raised by a single mom in the South Bronx determined to give her every opportunity to succeed; propelled by the talent and hard work that would earn her scholarships and honors at the best schools in the country; driven always by the belief that it doesn't matter where you come from, or what you look like, or what challenges life throws your way -- no dream is beyond reach in the United States of America.
And with her extraordinary breadth and depth of experience, Justice Sotomayor brings to the Court both a mastery of the letter of the law and an understanding of how the law actually unfolds in our daily lives -- its impact on how we work and worship and raise our families; on whether we have the opportunities we need to live the lives we imagine.
That understanding is vital for the work of a Supreme Court justice, as Justice Stevens and Justice Ginsburg will testify -- the work of applying principles set forth at our founding to the cases and controversies of our time.
For as visionary as our founders were, they did not presume to know exactly how the times would change, what new questions fate and history would set before us. Instead, they sought to articulate ideals that would be timeless -- ideals that would accommodate the ever-changing circumstances of our lives and preserve for each new generation our most sacred rights and freedoms.
When Justice Sotomayor put her hand on that Bible and took that oath, we took yet another step towards realizing those ideals. We came yet another step closer to the more perfect union that we all seek.
Because while this is Justice Sotomayor's achievement –- the result of her ability and determination -– this moment is not just about her. It's about every child who will grow up thinking to him or herself, if Sonia Sotomayor can make it, then maybe I can, too. (Applause.)
It's about every mother or father who looks at the sacrifices Justice Sotomayor's mother made, and the successes she and her brother have had, and thinks, I may not have much in my own life, but if I work hard enough, maybe my kids can have more. It's about everyone in this nation facing challenges and struggles in their lives, who hear Justice Sotomayor's story and thinks to themselves, if she could overcome so much and go so far, then why can't I?
Nearly 80 years ago, as the cornerstone was laid for the building that became our Supreme Court, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes declared, "The Republic endures and this is the symbol of its faith."
Justice Sotomayor's rise from humble beginnings to the height of achievement is yet another symbol of that faith -- faith that the American Dream still endures; faith that "equal justice under the law" is not just an inscription in marble, but an animating ideal of our democracy; faith that in this great nation, all things are still possible for all people.
This is a great day for America, and I know that all of us here are proud and honored to have been a part of it.
And so, with that, I would like to introduce the newest member of the United States Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor. (Applause.)
SOTOMAYOR: No words can adequately express what I am feeling. No speech can fully capture my joy in this moment. Nothing can convey the depth of gratitude I feel to the countless family members, starting with Mom and my brother, and the many friends and colleagues -- so many of you who are here with me today, and the others who aren't -- who have helped me to reach this moment. None of this would have happened without all of you.
Mr. President, I have the most heartfelt appreciation for the trust that you've placed in me by nominating me. And I want to convey my thanks to the Judiciary Committee, led by Chairperson Leahy, for conducting a respectful and timely hearing, and to all members of the Senate for approving the President's selection. I am so grateful to all of you for this extraordinary opportunity.
I am most grateful to this country. I stand here today knowing that my confirmation as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court would never have been possible without the opportunities presented to me by this nation. More than two centuries ago, in a Constitution that contains fewer than 5,000 words, our founders set forth their vision for this new land.
Their self-proclaimed task was to form a more perfect union, to establish justice, and to secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity. Over the years, the ideals at the heart of that document have endured, as subsequent generations have expanded those blessings, these rights and freedoms to more and more Americans.
Our Constitution has survived domestic and international tumult, including a civil war, two world wars, and the catastrophe of September 11th. It draws together people of all races, faiths, and backgrounds from all across this country who carry its words and values in our heart. It is this nation's faith in a more perfect union that allows a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx to stand here now. (Applause.)
I am struck again today by the wonder of my own life, and the life we in America are so privileged to lead. In reflecting on my life experiences, I am thinking also today of the judicial oath of office that I first took almost two decades ago, and that I reiterated this past weekend -- to judge without respect to what a person looks like, where they come from, or whether they are rich or poor, and to treat all persons as equal under the law. That is what our system of justice requires, and it is the foundation of the American people's faith in the rule of law, and it is why I am so passionate about the law.
I am deeply humbled by the sacred responsibility of upholding our laws and safeguarding the rights and freedoms set forth in our Constitution. I ask not just my family and friends, but I ask all Americans, to wish me divine guidance and wisdom in administering my new office.
I thank you all again for the love and support you have shown me. And I thank President Obama and the United States Senate for the tremendous honor and privilege they have granted me. Thank you. (Applause.) ###
Photo Credit: Reuters