Today, President Obama made history by nominating the first Hispanic, federal judge Sonia Sotomayor, for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. If confirmed, Judge Sotomayor will replace retiring Justice David Souter and become the first person of Puerto Rican heritage—and the third woman—to serve on the high court.
In a heartwarming speech, President Obama highlighted Judge Sotomayor’s rigorous intellect, mastery of the law and depth of experience on the bench, which he characterized as “more varied than anyone currently serving on the United States Supreme Court when they were appointed”—a measured response to conservative jabs at her credibility and jurisprudence.
The President also made a point of honoring the American dream when he praised the hard work of Judge Sotomayor’s Puerto Rican parents, who moved to New York and worked several jobs to support their family. Sotomayor’s father was a factory worker with a third-grade education who died when Sotomayor was nine.
Sonia’s mother began a family tradition of giving back to this country. Sonia’s father was a factory worker with a third-grade education who didn’t speak English. But like Sonia’s mother, he had a willingness to work hard, a strong sense of family, and a belief in the American dream. Along the way, she’s faced down barriers, overcome the odds, and lived out the American dream that brought her parents here so long ago.
Although born in New York to U.S. Citizens (Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth, even when they’re born in Puerto Rico), Judge Sotomayor’s pursuit of the American dream strongly parallels that of many immigrants’ today. In addition to their economic contributions, immigrants contribute to all areas of American life. President Obama amplified Sotomayor’s success story as an example of the many opportunities America affords people who are willing to work hard.
Well, Sonia, what you’ve shown in your life is that it doesn’t matter where you come from, what you look like or what challenges life throws your way, no dream is beyond reach in the United States of America.
Judge Sotomayor emerged from a housing project in the Bronx to graduate summa cum laude from Princeton and went on to attend Yale Law School, where she served as editor of the Yale Law Review. Judge Sotomayor then served as a prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney before going into private practice. She was appointed to the U.S. District Court (Southern District) of New York in 1992 by President George H. W. Bush and later elevated to the appeals court by President Clinton.
“Never in my wildest childhood imaginings did I ever dream that I would live this moment,” Judge Sotomayor said in a statement in the East Room ceremony.
Judge Sotomayor’s rise to Supreme Court Justice nominee is further evidence that the American dream is still very much alive—as are the American ideals of justice, fairness and opportunity that it embodies. President Obama’s profound respect and belief in the American dream offers yet another symbol of Obama-style hope for the 12 million undocumented immigrants who need immigration reform to make their American dream a reality.