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Sotomayor offers broader view of justice



Published: Thu, June 11, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Lewis W. Diuguid

Sonia Sotomayor will boost the diversity of the Supreme Court in many positive ways.

President Barack Obama in a stroke of genius nominated Sotomayor to fill the Supreme Court seat being vacated by the retirement of Justice David Souter. Sotomayor, 54, has served as a district judge and is on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York.

She has exceptional experience and great credentials, graduating with a bachelor of arts from Princeton University and a law degree from Yale. The high court needs her intellect.

But what she also will bring to the job, once confirmed by the Senate, is her uniqueness as a woman of color. She will be only the third woman to serve on the court among what would be 111 justices in the body’s history and will join Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a sitting female jurist.

That can’t be taken lightly. Women, who make up more than half the U.S. population, add a lot to the workforce, and the Supreme Court desperately needs that input.

Women often think and approach problems differently from men. They view the world’s challenges and intricacies differently. The male-dominated court needs that insight in these difficult times.

But Sotomayor also would be the first Hispanic on the court. That is a great and wonderful thing especially now that Latinos make up 15 percent of the U.S. population and are the nation’s largest minority.

Hispanics need to have someone with their sense and sensibilities on the high court. It is as essential as having Thurgood Marshall join the court in 1967 as the first African American.

As a Hispanic woman who grew up in the housing projects of the East Bronx, Sotomayor knows the difficulties Hispanics face in this country. The discrimination, prejudice, racial profiling and racism they live with are not distant, textbook stories to her. The conservative, white-male-dominated court needs a jurist with a more inclusive eye for justice.

It’s important now as the demographics of the nation continue to change. The U.S. Census Bureau reported last month that more counties in the United States are becoming majority-minority.

That means more than half of the population in those counties is a combination of Hispanic, black, American Indian or Asian-American. Nearly 10 percent of the nation’s 3,142 counties were majority-minority as of July 1, 2008, the census reported.

“Of that total, 56 have become majority-minority since April 1, 2000,” the census said. It’s not just in Texas, Florida, California and New Mexico.

Majority-minority counties

In Kansas, Finney, Ford, Seward and Wyandotte counties all are majority-minority now. Wyandotte County in the Kansas City area made the shift this century. In April 2000, the minority population was 48 percent of the total of 157,882. By July 1, 2008, the percentage of minorities rose to 53 percent, but the total also fell to 154,287.

Sotomayor’s Hispanic heritage is Puerto Rican. Her mother, Celine, moved to New York from the island nation in the 1940s. Puerto Ricans are a beautiful blend of Spanish, Indian and African people. That’s because of Puerto Rico’s history of being inhabited first by the Borinquen, or Arawak, Indians, “discovered” in 1493 by Christopher Columbus, conquered by the Spanish with the added feature of slaves from Africa and defeated by the U.S. in 1898 in the Spanish-American War.

In 1917 Puerto Ricans received U.S. citizenship. Since the war, Puerto Rico has been a territory but never a state. As U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans can move throughout the United States freely. It is migration, not immigration. Sotomayor’s mother was part of a massive migration of Puerto Ricans here after World War II.

Population growth

Like the new wave of Hispanics to the United States, Puerto Ricans left the depression in their homeland for factory, railroad and farm jobs in the states. The Puerto Rican population in the United States at 4.12 million is now greater than the 3.95 million people in Puerto Rico itself.

It’s part of the new America — insight that Sotomayor lends to the high court. We’ll all benefit from her being there.

X Lewis W. Diuguid is a member of The Kansas City Star’s Editorial Board. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune.


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