For Sotomayer, 60 Is The Big Number

With the nomination of U.S. Federal Appellate Justice Sonia Sotomayer to the Supreme Court, President Obama has selected the first Latina ...



With the nomination of U.S. Federal Appellate Justice Sonia Sotomayer to the Supreme Court, President Obama has selected the first Latina to the nation’s highest court. Aside from this historic distinction, let’s consider the nomination in the context for some other numbers.

As a replacement to retiring Justice David Souter, Sotomayer becomes only the third female out of 110 previous justices. Given her age, Sotomayer is also the first baby boom female on the court.

Former Justice Sandra Day-O’Connor and current Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsberg, both gifted law students from prestigious schools, were unable to find meaningful legal employment upon graduation. On the other hand, Sotomayer, a graduate of Yale Law School easily found work as a prosecutor and had a legal career more typical of her male peers on the Supreme Court.

The fact that within a generation a minority female could graduate from one of our nation’s top law schools and ascend to the heights of the legal profession speaks volumes. As time moves forward, we should fully expect this trend to continue and see the number of female Supreme Court justices grow.

Born in 1954, Sotomayer joins fellow boomer era justice’s Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Chief Justice John Roberts. Thomas coincidentally was the first boomer to serve on the court when he donned his robe in 1991.

As other justices retire, we can fully expect them to be replaced by other baby boomers. Demographics almost dictate this which means in the not so distant future a majority of baby boomers will be on the Supreme Court.

Of the five justices other justices on the court, four were born in the 1930’s (Stephen Breyer, Bader-Ginsberg, Anthony Kennedy and Anton Scalia) and there is one justice left from the so-called greatest generation, John Paul Stevens. Stevens is also the only current justice with wartime military experience.

With the likely addition of Sotomayer, the court will reach another numeric milestone. There will be six Roman Catholics on the nation’s highest bench including Ailto, Kennedy, Roberts, Sclalia, and Thomas.

Based on her judicial record, it is unlikely Sotomayer's faith will play a key role in such hot-button issues as abortion. Nonetheless, justices have a mind of their own and often disappoint the President’s who appointed them. Think of Eisenhower’s dismay with Chief Justice Earl Warren or the first Bush on his appointment of Souter.

Lest we forget, there is one other number that will be most significant to Sotomayer as her nomination grinds its way through the Senate – the number 60. That is how many votes Sotomayer needs to secure her appointment.

As we speak, the usual interest groups are firing up their fax machines, e-mails and of churning out fundraising letters to spur public sentiment for or against Sotomayer. In the post Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill era, this is almost obligatory.

While many may point to the Thomas-Hill affair, pardon the pun, as the starting point of the modern day Supreme Court nomination circus, the real credit goes to the Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert Borke.

A conservative jurist, Borke’s nomination was strongly condemned by the then Democratic Senate majority. Again the number 60 came up, but for Bork it was a number he couldn’t reach as his nomination was shot down 58-42.

Of course Bork wasn’t the only nominee to have the plug pulled on an appointment to the Supreme Court. Bork’s replacement nominee, Robert Ginsberg’s, one drag away from the Supreme Court you could say, withdrew himself from consideration after it was revealed he had frequently consumed marijuana.

Nixon had two consecutive nominations, Clement Haynsworth and G. Harold Carswell rejected by the Senate. Eventually the Senate approved Nixon’s third choice, Harry Blackmun, a conservative jurist who was a childhood friend of then Chief Justice Warren Burger. Blackmun famously went on to write the majority opinion on Roe v. Wade.

So as we saunter into the dog days of summer, we can expect to see some high drama on the nomination of Justice Sotomayer and remember above all else, the key number is 60.

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