Realizing the Ideal: America Fulfills its Promise

08/06/2009 07:01 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Senate, in confirming Judge Sonia Sotomayor, has made history and stood witness to the coming of age of America.

Our founders built a nation on an idea and an ideal.

They devised a unique experiment in a new form of government built on tolerance, equal rights, justice, and a constitution that protected us from the mighty sword of tyranny. They forged a community from shared values, common principles, yet preserved the freedom of every citizen to pursue happiness and reach for the stars no matter their circumstance at birth.

It was a revolutionary notion that, in America, one is not bound by economic or social status, and that, if we work hard, reach further, aim higher, everything is possible.

I was born in the same year as Judge Sotomayor. Like her, I came from humble beginnings, raised in an old tenement in an old neighborhood in Union City, New Jersey, the son of immigrants, first in my family to go to college.

I never dreamed that, one day, someone of my background would have the opportunity to go to the floor of the United States Senate to vote to confirm an eminently-qualified Hispanic woman who grew up in a housing project in the Bronx, across the river from that old tenement in Union City.

When Judge Sotomayor takes her seat on the United States Supreme Court, we will need only to look at the portrait of the Justices of the new Supreme Court to see how far we have come as a nation, who we really are as a people, and what our founders intended us to be, yet still we are too often divided by deeply-held individual beliefs.

The fact is we have different perspectives and different views not withstanding our common concerns and interests. All of us see the world differently and cannot deny our backgrounds or who we are. All we can ask of ourselves is that wisdom, intelligence, reason, and logic will always prevail in the decisions we make. But it is important to emphasize that who we are is not a measure of how we judge; it is merely the prism through which we analyze the facts. The real test is how we think and what we do.

The fact is that Sonia Sotomayor brings more judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any Justice in the last 70 years and more Federal judicial experience than anyone in the last century. Her credentials are impeccable. She was appointed by George H. W. Bush to the U.S. District Court in New York, by Bill Clinton to the U.S. Court of Appeals, and was confirmed by both a Democratic majority Senate and a Republican majority Senate which should tell us: if she was qualified then, she must be qualified now.

The worst her opponents can accuse her of is an accident of geography that gave her the unique ability to see the world from the street view, from the cheap seats. I know that view well. It provides a unique perspective on life. It engenders compassion. It engenders pathos, and it focuses a clear lens on the lives of those whose struggles are more profound than ours, and whose problems run far, far deeper.

That view remains with me today, and will remain with me all of my life. To me, there may be no greater vantage point from which to see the whole picture than a tenement in Union City or a housing project in the Bronx.

Thomas Jefferson, in his First Inaugural Address, said: "I shall often go wrong through defect of judgment. When right, I shall often be thought wrong by those whose positions will not command a view of the whole ground." Judge Sonia Sotomayor commands a view of the whole ground. It is a strength, not a weakness.

It is who she is, not what she will do or how she will judge. It is the long view, and it gives her an edge, for she may see what others cannot, and that is a gift that will benefit this nation as a whole.

When Judge Sonia Sotomayor places her hand on the Bible and takes the oath of office, the new portrait of the Justices of the Unites States Supreme Court will more clearly reflect who we are as a nation and what we stand for as a fair, just, and hopeful people. Let that be the legacy of our generation.