THE BLOG
08/16/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Sotomayor: Who Could Be More American?

There are those who see Judge Sotomayor as an example of the American Dream, a woman who came from a working-class background into the best schools and drove herself intellectually and physically. That much thinking is hard work. For one thing, it doesn't leave any time for the gym. For another, you spend your entire early life as both a chosen star of the affirmative action machine and a "representative of your race." That will stress anybody out. Aside from all that is the fact that there is hardly any point to being Latina if you can't spend your weekends out dancing instead of studying. My mother can dance and so can I, and I promise that if I had to choose between all the time I spent in after-hour clubs or the Supreme Court, I would dancing. She made some big sacrifices.

But that's not how I think of the good judge. I think of her as coming from the area covered by the Eighth Homicide Squad in the Bronx. She was still in Princeton when I was a homicide prosecutor in the Bronx. I bet her mother never let her out of the house. The Bronx View Projects were in the 43rd Precinct and comprised mostly working people. The rest of the Four Three Precinct was the jurisdiction of some of the finest "death police" around. They were not assigned there by accident.

Let me give you some examples. Jack McCann was a marine, and so were his brothers Kevin, Gerard and Kenny. Their father was the commander of the highest crime area in Harlem. Gerard was a cop and liked Vietnam so much that he wanted to stay there -- the Marines made him leave because he got shot a couple of times and caught every tropical disease ever invented. Kenny was a lieutenant in Narcotics. He shot at three guys as a cop and killed all three of them. Jack was in Homicide. He was the deep thinker of the family. Jack retired as a first grade detective in the Major Case Squad. He was brilliant, a great investigator and the most connected guy in the NYPD.

Another detective there was John Meda. His first day on the job, he was on a foot post and killed a guy in the main branch of the Public Library. Ronnie Marsension was half Polish and half Puerto Rican. He was poorly socialized. I think I mean that as a compliment. It means he accepted nothing, viewed the whole world in relative terms and saw his role in society as protecting the good from the bad, though not necessarily by being good. He got promoted to detective because he also was on foot post, saw a robbery, commandeered a cab, rammed it into the getaway cab, jumped in the car where he subdued the three robbers by pistol-whipping them. He was also a Marine.

Lastly, and I deliberately separate him from the others, was Jim Graham. He was Special Forces. He didn't like "nobody." He was, however, a completely non-discriminatory savage. Just because he didn't like you didn't mean he wouldn't risk his life for you. He was in the Hostage Negotiating Squad. The first time he leads the team, which means he walks up to the guy with a gun to his kid's head, he tries to talk him into letting the kid go without shooting him. The conversation did not seem to be going well so he grabbed the kid and shot dad in his head. Nice job, Jimmy, but they still took him out of the unit because he looked like he enjoyed the finale.

Are we getting the picture here? Personally, I loved it. Blood everywhere. However, if this geography does not give Judge Sotomayor a feeling for what crime does -- compared to, say, Judge Roberts, who grew up on a diet of IBM for breakfast, lunch and the mortgage -- what would? Judge Roberts is bright, able and decent, but you can't exactly say that he tastes the memories of hardship everyday with breakfast.

Assistant District Attorney Sotomayor was an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan. I defended cases she prosecuted. She is lovely, bright and painfully sincere.

Now what is the point of this? Well, lets look. She is a first generation immigrant, like Scalia. She is Catholic -- the largest single religious group on the court. She was raised in a single-parent household -- the US has the highest percentage of single-parent families in the developed world. Her mother was a World War II veteran. She had her own business as a lawyer for three years, worked out of her apartment and almost starved to death doing free work -- that's a nice insight to being a small business owner.

And finally, she's really really urban, which none of the rest of them are. Souter, for instance grew up in what was darn near a hut in the woods. Judge Scalia is from Queens, but his father was a Professor. Sotomayor's mother cleaned up people who peed on themselves. There are a lot more people who need then those who don't need in big cities.

Myself, I have never learned to adjust well from having to work around the clock as a kid and carry plates back and forth to the kitchen every Thanksgiving, New Years Eve and Christmas Eve. How come I don't have someone on the court who can relate to that? Clarence Thomas, bless his embittered soul, knows the feeling, but why not put somebody there who made it through with a smile and empathy?

How is she not more American than anyone else on the Court?