Justice David Souter is said to be retiring. We should all thank him for his service to our country. But it's time to look forward.
U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court is an idea whose time has come.
If you look at the federal judiciary, it is overwhelmingly white and male. When a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was asked by one of my law students the career path to becoming a judge, he gave the pithy reply, "It helps if you know your U.S. Senator."
Mind you, as a professor, I had hoped for an insightful answer -- that perhaps he had toiled as a prosecutor or public defender or rose through the ranks at a law firm to make partner. That he had argued x number of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. That he had been attorney general for his state.
"It helps if you know your U.S. Senator."
How many women or people of color can say that? When you add to that the dearth of women and people of color in the federal judiciary -- although it's getting better, the numbers aren't what they should be given the advances made during the Carter and Clinton administrations -- of course it comes down to not much more than social ties, assuming all the qualifications are in place.
It shouldn't be that way.
I don't know Judge Sotomayor other than knowing that she was on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. When I Googled her this morning, I found out that clearly I wasn't the only one who had the same idea: It's time to put a woman of color on the U.S. Supreme Court. Because race and gender do matter.
When I think of how Justice Ginsburg has stood up for the rights of women and people of color precisely because she has been discriminated against because of her gender and religion, I know that when issues of race and gender come before the court -- issues of marginalized people in general -- that she is going to give these issues a fair hearing AND a different perspective based on her own life experience, a life experience not shared by Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Roberts, Stevens, Alito, Souter, Breyer, and even Justice Thomas, to a certain extent.
Judge Sotomayor's got all the goods: A summa cum laude graduate of Princeton, Yale Law School graduate, editor of the Yale Law Journal, U.S. District Court judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit judge. She's enjoyed bipartisan support in the past, and I can't imagine that she wouldn't this time around.
A Latina on the U.S. Supreme Court: An idea whose time has come.