U.S. Supreme Court Nominee Sotomayor is a Superstar Judge Who Just Happens to be Hispanic

06/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Esther J. Cepeda Opinion journalist and an expert on the issues of U.S. Hispanics/Latinos

National news: a Puerto Rican daughter of the streets overcomes all obstacles including childhood death of her third-grade educated factory-worker father, a mother who had to work six days a week to buy her and her brother a set of encyclopedias that sat in the concrete block room of her Bronx housing project apartment, makes it big as a nominee on the U.S. Supreme Court.

God Bless America!

Oh and by the way, Sonia Sotomayor is a badass judge.

Missed that part didn't ya? I certainly did -- during President Obama's press conference and in coverage immediately afterwards. It was all about the First Hispanic U.S. Supreme Court Judge, and about the Second Woman for the Supreme Court, and about triumph over adversity and childhood Nancy Drew adventure dreams dashed because of diabetes, and not about one woman's stunning talent and determination culminating in a seat in this country's highest court.

Now don't get me wrong -- as many did when I wrote that the best nominee should be accomplished and wonderful despite gender or ethnicity -- I'm thrilled! And humbled and inspired by this woman's tremendous achievement and professional excellence, but gosh I wish that the morning's exciting news had focused more on that professional excellence and not just on her stunning personal story.

Sure, President Obama started off his presser by noting his nominee was chosen because of: "First and foremost... a rigorous intellect - a mastery of the law, an ability to hone in on the key issues and provide clear answers to complex legal questions. Second is a recognition of the limits of the judicial role, an understanding that a judge's job is to interpret, not make, law; to approach decisions without any particular ideology or agenda, but rather a commitment to impartial justice; a respect for precedent and a determination to faithfully apply the law to the facts at hand."

But then it was all about her triumph over adversity. Again, an incredibly awesome achievement - and darned heart-warming to see Sotomayor thank her mami publicly: "I am all I am because of her," Judge Sotomayor said, "and I am only half the woman she is," I got teary with pride - but where was the gushing about her professional achievements?

Sonia Sotomayor was appointed to the U.S. District Court by a Republican President, George H.W. Bush, and promoted to the Federal Court of Appeals by a Democrat, Bill Clinton. Walking in the door she would bring more experience on the bench, and more varied experience on the bench, than anyone currently serving on the United States Supreme Court had when they were appointed.

Judge Sotomayor is a distinguished graduate of Princeton and Yale, would be the only justice with experience as a trial judge, has presided over roughly 450 cases and brings with her a stamp of approval from none other than George H.W. Bush who appointed her to the District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1992 - when she was still in her 30s!

According to the White House backgrounder, "If confirmed, Sotomayor would bring more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice in 100 years, and more overall judicial experience than anyone confirmed for the Court in the past 70 years." Oh how I wish that was the predominant headline!

It goes without saying that some will harshly criticize her -- that just goes with the territory. They'll do so because she's perceived as liberal, or because she's a woman, or because she once made the following disturbing comment: "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."

Oh there's more: allusions to a "Latino agenda," controversy regarding Fire Department promotion will all come out in the following weeks, it's open season; heck at the afternoon press conference a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs if the White House was sure she'd paid her taxes. He replied, "I have not seen anything on that."

Sotomayor is President Obama's pick, and if she should become the 111th U.S. Supreme Court Justice, let's not let Sotomayor be labeled the "best Hispanic Supreme Court judge" around but, rather, the best choice to represent the people of United States on the Supreme Court who just so happens to be Hispanic.

Esther J. Cepeda is an opinion journalist who writes on