Statements and Speeches

Mr. President, I rise today to speak in support of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation to the United States Supreme Court.

Those of us who are privileged to serve in the Senate cast literally thousands of votes during our years here.  We take many votes that are crucial and important - but a handful of them are far more meaningful than any of the others.  These votes have historic consequences - ones which will resonate for years, or decades, to come.

This is one of those votes.

This is my third opportunity to vote on a Supreme Court nominee.  On the previous two occasions, we faced different circumstances in which I had to decide whether to vote for, or against, candidates who were nominated by a President not of my party - nominees who may not have shared my political beliefs or judicial philosophy.

Like my colleagues, I take seriously our Constitutional obligation to provide advice and consent to determine whether a President's nominees truly merit a lifetime appointment.  In each of those two earlier cases, I considered my decision carefully and deliberately.  In one of those cases - that of now-Chief Justice Roberts - I chose to support the President's selection.  In the other, I did not.

Now, reasonable people can disagree about the nominee before us this week.  I certainly respect the views of my friends on the other side of the aisle who may ultimately vote against Judge Sotomayor's confirmation.  But - first - I want to explain why I am supporting Judge Sotomayor and - second - I want to encourage our Republican colleagues to support her nomination, as well.

In 2005, when I voted to confirm Judge John Roberts' nomination to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, I admitted that it was a close call, at least for me.  Ultimately, though, I chose to take what I described, at the time, as a "leap of faith."  Chief Justice Roberts holds political and legal opinions that are different in a number of respects than mine.  I knew that he would sometimes deliver decisions that I might not agree with.

But after carefully reviewing his testimony, meeting with him and personally talking to a number of his colleagues - colleagues of his who knew him well and had worked closely with him in the past - I concluded that John Roberts would prove a worthy successor to retiring Chief Justice Rehnquist.

In short, by supporting John Roberts' nomination I voted my hopes and not my fears.

Just as I voted my hopes instead of my fears in the case of then-Judge, now Chief Justice, Roberts, I hope that many of our friends and colleagues on the other side of the aisle will see their way clear to doing the same in this instance.

Before coming to the Senate, I served as Governor of Delaware.  As Governor, I nominated dozens of men and women to serve as judges in our state courts.  The qualities that I sought in the judicial nominees that I submitted to the Delaware State Senate included:  unimpeachable integrity, a thorough understanding of the law, a keen intellect, a willingness to listen to both sides of a case, sound judicial temperament and judgment, and a strong work ethic.

These are qualities that still guide me as I decide how to vote on judicial nominees.  In applying each of those standards to Judge Sotomayor during the course of my examination of her record, it is clear to me that she meets, or exceeds, all of them.

First, consider her experience.  Judge Sotomayor has a compelling life story - a story that confirms her work ethic and informs her judicial temperament.  In June of this year, I had the pleasure of meeting personally with Judge Sotomayor.  We spoke at length about her experience, her service and her life.  We talked about our respective childhoods, our educational opportunities and our careers.  It was a revealing conversation and her responses were forthright, insightful and sincere.

The nominee before us truly highlights the diversity of the country in which we live.  Sonia Sotomayor grew up in a South Bronx housing project.  Her parents were both immigrants from Puerto Rico, and her father had limited education and did not speak English.

Her mother worked six days a week to help support the family and instilled in her the importance of a quality education.  Judge Sotomayor excelled in school and went on to attend Princeton University on a scholarship.  She later went on to Yale Law School, where she served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal.

I have met many people in my life who have built themselves up from nothing.  Unfortunately, I've found that some of them - perhaps, many of them - seem to have forgotten where they came from.  But it is clear to me that Sonia Sotomayor has not.  When we met, she told me that she was - quote - "still Sonia from the projects."  Despite all of her success, she still hasn't forgotten her roots.  Let me say, I find that enormously refreshing and encouraging.

After law school, Sonia Sotomayor served as an Assistant District Attorney in New York.  During her five years in that position, she tried dozens of major criminal cases and became known, in the words of Robert Morgenthau - who was then, and remains, the District Attorney in Manhattan - as a "fearless and effective prosecutor."

Starting in 1984, Sonia Sotomayor spent eight years in private practice.  As a civil and international corporate litigator, she gained considerable experience in the private sector - handling cases involving everything from real estate to contract law, from intellectual property to banking.

Then in 1992, with bipartisan support, Sonia Sotomayor began her service to this country in the federal judiciary.  She was nominated to serve as a federal district judge by Republican President George H.W.  Bush - and was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate.

Six years later, when Democratic President Clinton nominated her to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, she received the support of twenty-five of my colleagues on the other side of aisle.  Their vote of confidence in Judge Sotomayor then has since been confirmed by her reputation for moderation and impartiality.

The Second Circuit is considered by many to have one of the most demanding caseloads in the nation.  Judge Sotomayor participated in over 3,000 decisions and has written more than 230 opinions for the majority.  During her time on the bench, she examined difficult issues of constitutional law, complex business disputes, and high-profile criminal cases.

Judge Sotomayor brings more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice confirmed in the past 100 years.

As a federal judge for nearly two decades, Sonia Sotomayor has demonstrated a clear commitment to unbiased, impartial justice and the rule of law.  Unlike some nominees for the federal bench, with judge Sotomayor we can see a long paper trail of her legal rulings.

Her record reveals that she consistently takes each case on its own merits - regardless of the ideological outcome - and narrowly applies the law to the particular facts.  She may even be more of a "strict constructionist," when it comes to applying the law, than many of the justices my friends on the other side of the aisle admire the most.  Quite frankly, she is a model of judicial restraint.

As a Circuit Court judge, Sonia Sotomayor is known as a moderate who agrees with her more conservative colleagues far more than she disagrees with them.  One of those colleagues on the Second Circuit, Richard C. Wesley, himself an appointee of President George W. Bush, had this to say about her:  "Sonia is an outstanding colleague with a keen legal mind.  She brings a wealth of knowledge and hard work to all her endeavors on our court.  It is both a pleasure and an honor to serve with her."

Another Second Circuit colleague, Judge Roger Miner, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, described Judge Sotomayor as an "excellent choice," saying, "I don't think I'd go as far as to classify her in one camp or another.  I think she just deserves the classification of outstanding judge."

And, the Second Circuit's current Chief Judge, Dennis Jacobs - appointed by the first President Bush - said "Sonia Sotomayor is a well-loved colleague on our court.  Everybody from every point of view knows that she is fair and decent in all her dealings.  The fact is, she is truly a superior human being."

The strength of Judge Sotomayor's record and reputation is perhaps why, to some extent, many critics have focused almost exclusively on one or two legal rulings, and on one line from a speech she delivered years ago.

I do not find much to agree with in these criticisms.  But even if I did, it does not seem fair to me that she should be judged on those few items alone.  These few quibbles need to be put in the context of her lifetime of work.

Of all people, we in the Senate should understand this.  As senators, whether we serve here for 12 years, 24 years, or for more than 50 years as Robert Byrd has done, we will vote thousands of times.  As many of us know from personal experience, it's easy to take one vote - or one decision - or one line from a speech - completely out of context and make us appear to be someone we are not or to stand for something that is entirely alien to our beliefs and values.  It has happened to me, and I suspect that it has happened to most - if not all - of our colleagues.  And, if I might add, I believe that's what has happened to the nominee before us today.

As a result, I believe it's incumbent upon us to examine carefully a nominee's overall record, much as I hope that the people of Delaware will consider my overall record when they cast their votes every six years.

If nothing else, Judge Sotomayor's extensive record demonstrates that she sticks to the law.  Perhaps that's why, in part, the American Bar Association has given Judge Sotomayor its top rating of "well qualified" in assessing her record and evaluating her judicial temperament.

For all of these reasons - and more - I invite my conservative colleagues on the other side of the aisle to take a "leap of faith" - much as I did four years ago - and join me in casting their vote in favor of Judge Sotomayor's nomination to serve on the United States Supreme Court.

Thank you, Mr.  President.  I yield the floor.