Evan Moffitt on US Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor

‘Appointed by Barack Obama in 2009, Sotomayor is the fourth woman and the first Latina to serve on the nation’s highest court’

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Courtesy: Kainaz Amaria/NPR

On 12 December 2000, I lost my faith in the Supreme Court of the United States. By a slim, one-vote majority, that august body had ruled invalid the election recount efforts in Florida, making George W. Bush the President-elect. The curiously unauthored ruling was ‘limited to the present circumstances’, making it the first time in its history the Court had revoked their power of judicial review, and ushering in two decades of naked bias. More recently, Donald Trump has stacked the Court with conservative cronies: the right-wing Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, a Bush appellate appointee, who fended off sexual harassment allegations by spouting anti-government conspiracies on national television. (Let’s not forget his love of beer.)

It seems strange, then, that the very same bench could seat the US government’s brightest light. Sonia Sotomayor, appointed by Barack Obama in 2009, is the fourth woman and the first Latina to serve on the nation’s highest court; she is also its most eloquent in a generation. (I sat in on her confirmation hearing and felt giddy for weeks.) Though less famous than the ‘Notorious RBG’, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sotomayor is far more progressive: in various rulings, she has defended Miranda rights; the rights of undocumented immigrants and LGBT people; affirmative action; and access to healthcare, including contraception. There is a deep empathy to her written opinions. Sotomayor grew up in a low-income housing project in the Bronx; her father, an alcoholic, died when she was nine, and her mother worked six days a week as a nurse to pay the rent. Money too often trumps merit in the US, and so her story gives me hope. Right now, somewhere in the Bronx, there are kids who may save us from the tyranny of old white men.

Evan Moffitt is associate editor of frieze, based in New York, USA. 

Issue 200

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January - February 2019

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