July 13, 2009

Introduction of Judge Sonia Sotomayor by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Thank you Chairman Leahy, Ranking member Sessions, Senator Schumer, and the other distinguished members of the Judiciary Committee for the privilege to speak on behalf of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.  President Obama has chosen one of the country’s outstanding legal minds with his nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court. 
 
As a New Yorker, I take great pride along with the rest of my state in Judge Sotomayor’s nomination. 
 
As a woman, I take great pride in this historic nomination.  In the words of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor “It took a very long time – about 171 years – to get the first woman on the Supreme Court.  And I thought … that we’d very likely always have two and eventually more.” 
 
I am thankful that President Obama has recognized the importance of women’s voices on the nation’s highest court.
 
Sonia Sotomayor’s life and career are a study in excellence – a commitment to learning, a dedication to the law, and constant pursuit of the highest ideals of our country. 
 
Her story is also the quintessential American and New York story.  Born to a Puerto Rican family, growing up in public housing in the South Bronx, she was raised with a love of country and a deep appreciation for hard work.  Judge Sotomayor demonstrated a devotion to learning, graduating summa cum laude from Princeton and served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal, before pursuing a career in the law.
 
The breadth and depth of Judge Sotomayor’s experience makes her uniquely qualified for the Supreme Court.  Judge Sotomayor’s keen understanding of case law and the importance of precedent is derived from working in nearly every aspect of our legal system – as a prosecutor, corporate litigator, trial judge and appellate judge.
As a prosecutor, Judge Sotomayor fought the worst of society’s ills, prosecuting a litany of crimes – from murder to child pornography to drug trafficking.  Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morganthau described her as a “fearless and effective prosecutor” and an “able champion of the law.”
 
Judge Sotomayor’s years as a Corporate Litigator exposed her to all facets of commercial law including, real estate, employment, banking, contracts and agency law. 
 
Judge Sotomayor was appointed to the US District Court for the Southern District of New York by President George H.W. Bush, presiding over roughly four hundred fifty cases and earning a reputation as a tough, fair and thoughtful jurist. She would replace Justice Souter as the only member of the Supreme Court with experience as a trial judge. 
 
At the appellate level, Judge Sotomayor has participated in over three thousand panel decisions, authoring roughly four hundred published opinions – with only seven cases brought up for review by the Supreme Court, which reversed only three of her authored opinions, two of which were closely divided.
 
With confirmation, Judge Sotomayor would bring more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice in one hundred years and more overall judicial experience than any justice confirmed to the court in seventy years. 
 
As a testament to Judge Sotomayor, many independent national legal and law enforcement groups have endorsed her nomination.  
 
The American Bar Association voted unanimously to endorse Judge Sotomayor with its highest rating – “well qualified” – citing her “formidable intellect… a mature legal mind open to the arguments of others…  deciding each case based on the precise facts and legal issues before her… also faithful in following the law as it exists; and that she has a healthy respect for the limited role of judges and the balance of powers with the executive and legislative branches.”
 
The President of the Fraternal Order of Police, declared that, “She is a model jurist: tough, fair-minded and mindful of the constitutional protections afforded to all U.S. citizens."
 
A nominee’s experience as a legal advocate for civil rights certainly must not be seen as a disqualifying criterion for confirmation, but instead the hallmark of an individual’s commitment to our founding principles of equality, justice and freedom.  Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s participation in the ACLU Women’s Rights Project or Thurgood Marshall’s efforts on behalf of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Judge Sotomayor’s leadership role in the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund demonstrates her commitment to our Constitutional rights and core value that equality is an inalienable American right – and should not be ascribed based on gender or color. 
 
Judge Sotomayor’s entire breadth of experience uniquely informs her ability to discern facts as she applies the rule of law and follows precedent.  Judge Sotomayor’s commitment to the Constitution is unyielding. 
As she described in her judicial philosophy, saying “I don’t believe we should bend the Constitution under any circumstance.  It says what it says.  We should do honor to it.”  Judge Sotomayor’s record on the Second Circuit demonstrates the paramount importance of this conviction.
 
The importance of Sonia Sotomayor’s professional and personal story cannot be understated. 
 
Many of our most esteemed justices have noted the importance of their own diverse backgrounds and life experiences in being an effective justice.  Like Judge Sotomayor, they also understand that their gender or ethnicity is not the determining factor in the judicial rulings, but another asset which they bring to the court – much like their education, training, and previous legal work. 
 
Justice Antonin Scalia said:
 
I am a product of the melting pot in New York, grew up with people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds … I have absolutely no racial prejudices, and I think I am probably at least as antagonistic as the average American, and probably much more so towards racial discrimination.
 
Justice Clarence Thomas said:
 
My journey …  has been one that required me to at some point touch on virtually every aspect, every level of our country, from people who couldn't read and write to people who were extremely literate, from people who had no money to people who were very wealthy. So, what I bring to this Court, I believe, is an understanding and the ability to stand in the shoes of other people across a broad spectrum of this country.
 
Justice Samuel Alito said:
 
I don’t come from an affluent background or a privileged background.   My parents were both quite poor when they were growing up.  And, I know about their experiences …
When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.
 
Judge Sotomayor will bring the wisdom of all her experiences to bear as she applies the rule of law, and will grace the Supreme Court with the intelligence, judgment, clarity of thought and determination of purpose that we have come to expect from all great justices on the Court.  I strongly support Judge Sotomayor’s nomination and firmly believe she will prove to be one of the finest justices in American history.  
 
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