Shortly after Obama's win, I heard someone lament that this country is going to hell in a hand basket. Well if this is hell, give me a tall glass of ice water.
This morning, Obama announced Sonia Sotomayor as his pick to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat that will be left empty by David Souter. She has more experience than any other current member of the court at the time of their nomination and is said to be most in touch with what's happening in the lives of ordinary citizens. She is also the first Latino and if confirmed would be only the third woman to serve as Justice.
The last woman to be nominated to the Supreme Court was Harriet Miers, a Bush insider with very little experience and an almost nonexistent opinion record at the state or federal level. At the time of her nomination, many women including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had hoped a woman would win the seat but quickly backed away when Meirs was announced. Meirs was also shunned by many conservatives who believed her nomination compromised an agenda they had worked so hard over the last 30 years to build.
Sotomayor is a different story. She is a Yale-educated lawyer with 18 years of experience as a judge and has written over 150 court opinions. She was nominated by Papa Bush in 1991 and elevated in 1998 by Clinton to the 2nd Court of Appeals in Manhattan. It doesn't get more bi-partisan than that.
In addition to her credentials and experience, we cannot underestimate Sotomayor's background and what it will mean for the high court. She will bring a unique perspective unlike any other justice in the history of the country. Her background as a daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, raised in a Bronx housing tenement by a single mother means that she not only understands what it takes to succeed, but the barriers and challenges faced by immigrants and people of color attempting to realize their own version of the American Dream.
Liberals and progressives will want to know about where she stands on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, immigration, gun control, the separation of church and state, affirmative action, and racial discrimination. Her past opinions do not give us any clear, definitive answers. She seems to be less ideological and more pragmatic, deciding each case on its own merit. This will benefit Sotomayor during her confirmation hearings, but might cast a cloud of suspicion over her nomination with civil rights and women's organizations.
After Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Sotomayor is more than an encore; she is a symbol of the changing times and a forceful move toward building a more inclusive and representative democracy. So far, hell is looking pretty good these days.