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From the Political to the Personal - Significance of Sotomayor's Confirmation to the Supreme Court

By August 7, 2009

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Sotomayor confirmation supporters

As Sonia Sotomayor, the Supreme Court's first Hispanic and third female Associate Justice was confirmed by a full Senate vote yesterday, celebrations in the form of 'vote watch' parties were held from New York City to Wichita, Kansas. Witnessing the joy and pride of Hispanic women and men who see Sotomayor's ascension as a giant leap forward for our nation, it was hard to understand why many elected officials allowed partisan politics to taint an historic moment.

The Political
The 68-31 vote to confirm Sotomayor included only nine Republicans willing to risk the wrath of not only their party leaders but outside groups strongly opposed to Sotomayor and Obama -- groups that threatened senators who refused to vote 'their way.' These admirable men and women refused to practice 'politics as usual.' They saw past the smokescreen thrown up by opponents who claimed that the 'personal political opinions' of Sotomayor would cloud her judgment, and instead, recognizing a nominee worthy of confirmation, voted her onto the bench of the nation's highest court.

According to CNN:

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio...decided to back Sotomayor after weighing a range of factors, including her education, experience and temperament....[stating] "Based on my review of her record, and using these factors, I have determined that Judge Sotomayor meets the criteria to become a justice on the Supreme Court."

Voinovich was joined by Maine's Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, New Hampshire's Judd Gregg, Indiana's Richard Lugar, Missouri's Kit Bond, Florida's Mel Martinez, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham and Tennessee's Lamar Alexander.

In a telling political sign, none of the Republicans who voted for Sotomayor is seeking re-election in 2010. Conservative activists, including the powerful National Rifle Association, mounted a concerted effort to rally GOP opposition to Sotomayor.

The Persevering
Sotomayor's steadfastness and calm demeanor throughout the committee hearings, the Senate debate, and the media coverage of the confirmation process -- which was often marred by racist and sexist overtones -- is made more impressive by the fact that she patiently endured a waiting period nearly 50% longer than the last female nominee to the Supreme Court; from nomination to final confirmation vote, Sotomayor's appointment took 72 days as compared to Ruth Bader Ginsburg's 50 days.

The Personal
History books will bear witness to yesterday's momentous occasion for decades to come. But the impact of her confirmation on the personal lives of millions of Latinas has the greater, more enduring meaning in the context of political and popular culture.

One woman who experienced the intersection of the two in her own life in a telling moment is journalist Maria Hinojosa. In her commentary, "Proud to be a 'wise Latina'," she shares her mother-daughter conversation with 11-year-old Yurema in which Hinojosa asks which T-shirt she'd choose to wear: "I am a wise Latina," "My mother is a wise Latina," or "Sonia is a wise Latina." Yurema, secure in the knowledge that being a wise Latina can get a woman all the way to the Supreme Court, proudly announces she'd choose to wear "I am a wise Latina" on her own t-shirt.

Hinojosa writes:

Eleven years old, and this is the vision she already has of herself. It's a pretty wonderful thing to watch...one of those often fleeting moments when a girl owns her own power.

For me, the decision to wear my own "Wise Latina" T-shirt raises all kinds of issues. It makes me confront a past that I have known for decades. Deep down inside, I, like many other Latinas, struggle with my own very deep insecurities in relation to my white male colleagues. I think after witnessing history on television for the past two weeks, those insecurities have pretty much dissipated.

Sonia Sotomayor has blazed the trail. I can't go back to thinking that way, anymore, ever.

The Powerful
There's a sea change happening for women of color. In the 2008 elections, it was widely viewed that African American women held the key. Today, with Sotomayor's confirmation already yesterday's news, Latinas realize that she's placed the cornerstone in the foundation of a future America which will be rooted in a sizable Hispanic population that is growing rapidly and will remember the opposition of GOP senators to the Sotomayor nomination when they're up for re-election in their respective states.

It may have taken 72 days, but Sonia Sotomayor has changed the thinking of many people who once felt that a 'wise Latina' was a dangerous thing. For those who still believe that to be true, she'll have decades of opportunity on the Supreme Court to prove them wrong.

Photo © Win McNamee/Getty Images

Related article:
Confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court's First Hispanic Justice and Third Woman


August 8, 2009 at 9:51 am
(1) Margarita Duran says:

I didn’t know that in order to be Latina I had to be at least part Black or Native American. Sorry, I guess I have been wrong for years…Talk about reverse racism. I experience it quite often, specially from those non-white Mexicans…Please, practice what you preach!

August 12, 2009 at 1:28 pm
(2) Damade says:


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