06/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Welcoming the First Latino Supreme Court Justice

Yesterday, President Barack Obama announced his decision to nominate Judge Sonia Sotomayor to sit as the next Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. This unprecedented and historical announcement is a reflection of our nation: the first African-American president nominates the first Latina to the Supreme Court, and only the third woman in its history to hold that position.

But historical moments aside, the qualifications of this judicial nominee are outstanding and merit careful examination. Judge Sotomayor has more than three decades of experience bringing 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.

This judge is no intellectual lightweight. In her role on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit -- one of the most demanding circuits in the nation -- Judge Sotomayor participated in over 3000 panel discussions and authored some 400 opinions. She has handled everything from constitutional law to complex procedural matters and complicated business organizations. There is plenty of concrete information to draw from regarding her intellectual rigor and legal acuity.

A qualified Latina on our highest court will diversify judicial deliberations and bring firsthand experience to issues faced by not only ordinary Americans, but also under-served individuals and communities. This nomination will undoubtedly increase public confidence in our legal system by reinforcing our Constitution's axiom of "equal justice under the law."

Sotomayor has been widely admired by her colleagues as a judge with a sophisticated understanding of legal doctrine, but also as a judge who has keen knowledge of how laws and courts impact every-day lives. This is an important point to keep in mind as rule of law extends beyond legal theory to ensure common-sense application to real-world facts. This factor does not mean that she would base her decisions on some type of emotional reaction -- to the contrary -- it would serve to enhance the richness of the discussions taking place between the justices as they make their deliberations. Sotomayor is a moderate who forges consensus.

Her nomination comes at a time when the Latino community is at the heart of a number of highly politicized issues and attacks on its civil liberties. Someone like Sotomayor could help bridge the gap that exists in our communities today -- the gap between fear (and hatred) and understanding (and compassion).

As the Senate moves forward with her confirmation, Latinos everywhere will be watching and evaluating. Both parties should treat Judge Sotomayor with the respect that she deserves. Her record is there -- examine it, but render judgment with the same impartiality that will be expected of her should she be confirmed as Justice to the highest court in the land.

The president demonstrated the courage and political will to do what is right by opening the doors of the least diverse Supreme Court in history. A new day has dawned and hope has been reinstated for all whose belief in the American Dream had become tarnished.