Washington, D.C. - May 26, 2009 -- Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the Federal Appeals Court , center, makes remarks after United States President Barack Obama, right, named her as his nominee for Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday, May 26, 2009. She will replace retiring Justice David Souter. Judge Sotomayor, 54, of The Bronx, New York, will be the first Hispanic to serve if her nomination is approved by the U.S. Senate. Vice President Joseph Biden looks on from the left.

Issues Facing Latino Judiciary symposium sponsored by the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal, October 2001:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

Yet, because I accept the proposition that, as Judge Resnik describes it, “to judge is an exercise of power” and because as, another former law school classmate, Professor Martha Minnow of Harvard Law School, states “there is no objective stance but only a series of perspectives—no neutrality, no escape from choice in judging,” I further accept that our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions. The aspiration to impartiality is just that—it’s an aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others. Not all women or people of color, in all or some circumstances or indeed in any particular case or circumstance but enough people of color in enough cases, will make a difference in the process of judging.

Judge [Miriam] Cedarbaum [of the federal District Court in New York]… believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity based on the reason of law. Although I agree with and attempt to work toward Judge Cedarbaum’s aspiration, I wonder whether achieving that goal is possible in all or even in most cases. And I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society. Whatever the reasons… we may have different perspectives, either as some theorists suggest because of our cultural experiences or as others postulate because we have basic differences in logic and reasoning….

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice [Sandra Day] O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases…. I am… not so sure that I agree with the statement. First… there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences but I accept my limitations. I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage but attempt, as the Supreme Court suggests, continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate.

Duke University panel discussion held in February 2005

“All of the legal defense funds out there, they’re looking for people with Court of Appeals experience. Because it is — Court of Appeals is where policy is made. And I know, and I know, that this is on tape, and I should never say that. Because we don’t ‘make law,’ I know. [Laughter from audience] Okay, I know. I know. I’m not promoting it, and I’m not advocating it. I’m, you know. [More laughter] Having said that, the Court of Appeals is where, before the Supreme Court makes the final decision, the law is percolating. Its interpretation, its application.

Sotomayor identifies herself as a legal realist:

Taken from:  Hon. Sonia Sotomayor & Nicole A. Gordon, Returning Majesty To The Law and Politics: A Modern Approach, 30 Suffolk U. L. Rev. 35 (1996).

The constant development of unprecedented problems requires a legal system capable of fluidity and pliancy. Our society would be strait-jacketed were not the courts, with the able assistance of the lawyers, constantly overhauling the law and adapting it to the realities of ever-changing social, industrial and political conditions; although changes cannot be made lightly, yet law must be more or less impermanent, experimental and therefore not nicely calculable. Much of the uncertainty of law is not an unfortunate accident: it is of immense social value.

Frank’s thesis . . . supports a pride that lawyers can take in what they do and how they do it. The law can change its direction entirely, as when Brown v. Board of Education overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, or as the common law has gradually done by altering the standards of products liability law directly contrary to the originally restricted view that instructed “caveat emptor.” As these cases show, change—sometimes radical change—can and does occur in a legal system that serves a society whose social policy itself changes. It is our responsibility to explain to the public how an often unpredictable system of justice is one that serves a productive, civilized, but always evolving, society.

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