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The Record of Judge Sonia Sotomayor on Critical Legal Rights for Women

On May 28, 2009, President Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to replace Justice David Souter as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

As will be discussed in more detail below, Judge Sotomayor possesses sterling academic and legal credentials. Her varied legal career includes government service as a prosecutor, private practice in complex areas of commercial law, and 17 years as a federal judge. If confirmed to replace Justice Souter, she will be the only sitting Justice with trial court experience. In addition to her exceptional legal qualifications, Judge Sotomayor brings an inspiring life story and a demonstrated commitment to public and community service, including within the civil rights community.

President Obama's first Supreme Court nomination is an historic one for a number of reasons. First, Judge Sotomayor is only the third woman to be nominated to the Supreme Court, and, if confirmed, would bring the number of sitting female Justices back up to two.[1] In addition, Judge Sotomayor, if confirmed, would be only the third person of color, and the first Latina and woman of color, to sit on the Supreme Court.

The National Women's Law Center ("the Center") has reviewed Judge Sotomayor's legal record, with a focus on cases addressing issues of particular importance to women. In addition, the Center has reviewed key activities, public statements, and experiences of Judge Sotomayor outside of her service on the bench, and her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee during her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which began on July 13, 2009, and continued until July 16, 2009. This report, which presents this analysis, is intended to educate the public not only about Judge Sotomayor's record, but also more broadly about legal rights of key importance to women and the importance of fair and independent courts.

Based on this review, the Center concludes that Judge Sotomayor will bring a real-world perspective, much-needed diversity of experience and background, considerable legal acumen, and a fair-minded approach to the Court. Further, Judge Sotomayor's record and testimony provide confidence that her judicial philosophy and approach to the law are consistent with the legal rights and principles that are the underpinning of the Center's core mission.

[1] As Justice Ginsburg has stated on several occasions since Justice O'Connor retired, and most recently and pointedly in May, the Court sorely needs another woman Justice. Justice Ginsburg put it plainly: "Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. . . . It shouldn't be that women are the exception." Joan Biskupic, Ginsburg; Court Needs Another Woman, USA Today, May 5, 2009, available at Both Justice Ginsburg and former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor stated that they were pleased that President Obama had nominated a woman. See Tony Mauro, Justice O'Connor Happy There Will be Another Woman on High Court, Blog of Legal Times, Jun. 24, 2009 (reporting Justice O'Connor's statement on the Late Show with David Letterman that "I'm very happy we're getting another woman on the court. Very happy."), available at; Tony Mauro, Justice Ginsburg Welcomes Sotomayor Nomination, Blog of Legal Times, Jun. 14, 2009 (reporting on Justice Ginsburg's address at the annual conference of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit), available at And Justice Ginsburg went further, saying that "[Judge Sotomayor] will bring to the Supreme Court, as she did to the district court and then the Court of Appeals, a wealth of experience in law and in life." Id. Justice Ginsburg added, "I look forward to a new colleague well-equipped to handle the challenges our work presents." Id.

Download the full report