President Barack Obama, the first Democratic president in 15 years to make a U.S. Supreme Court nomination, has chosen a career lawyer and judge. Sonia Sotomayor has been a prosecutor, corporate lawyer, trial judge and appeals judge.
But Obama has made it clear that he wants someone who "understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook." Life experience matters in giving justices perspective on "how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives." In this, Obama is echoing Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in a famous 1880 lecture: "The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience."
Does a woman bring a different experience of life to the court than a man? Of course. Does a person who, like Sotomayor, grew up as the child of a single mother in the projects of the Bronx, New York, bring a different perspective than a person like Chief Justice John Roberts, who grew up as the child of a steel company executive in Indiana? No doubt. This is a diverse country and the high court could benefit from a wide range of life experiences.
It remains incredible that of 110 justices of the court in 211 years, only two have been women — yet some pundits are decrying Obama's nomination of a woman. And already, interest groups are weighing in on the usual hot button issues — abortion, guns, gay rights.
The U.S. Senate will have to get beyond the noise to address some unsexy but vexing issues. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is one of 19 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold hearings on Sotomayor's nomination. And Feinstein is well-placed to take on the most important of these issues: the balance of powers among the branches of government.
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