Ethnic Studies director reflects on Supreme Court nomination

Judge sotomayor

In a historic move earlier this week, President Barack Obama nominated federal appellate Judge Sonia Sotomayor to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. If confirmed by the Senate later this summer, Sotomayor would replace retiring Justice David Souter and become the first Hispanic justice and the third woman to serve the High Court.

Inside NAU asked Sara Alemán, the director of NAU’s Ethnic Studies Program and professor of sociology and social work, to share her thoughts on the nomination.

Inside NAU: What is the significance of a Latina being nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court?

Sara Alemán: Sotomayor’s nomination gives Latino students a role model, and her presence will have an enormous impact. The visibility of this person who has been a legal expert and a legal scholar for decades casts doubt on any assumption that there are no Latinos in leadership positions. For young Latinos to see someone like themselves, who can earn this kind of position and respect, is a powerful way for them to realize the potential is there for them to succeed.

Inside NAU: Is the prospect of appointing the first Hispanic justice to the Supreme Court more important politically or socially?

Alemán: It’s hard to say which is a more powerful gesture. Sotomayor seems to consider the impact of her decisions and she’s not driven by her own ideology. Politically, that will make her someone who has a broader impact. Of course there is a great deal of social value in having such influence. Others will see her decisions as having value, and they in turn will value her. This, in turn, brings value to me as an individual and as a Latina.

Inside NAU: President Obama has touted Sotomayor’s empathy. Can you address the importance of empathy in a Supreme Court justice?

Alemán: Sotomayor grew up in a public housing project in the Bronx. She has demonstrated an ability to see beyond economic factors, to see beyond political influences. It’s a value that is even more human. Empathy will help her to look at the individuals impacted by her decisions and may also require that she search within herself to make decisions that are fair and equitable.

Inside NAU: Sotomayor’s nomination clearly is a milestone for Latinos. What does it signify to society at large?

Alemán: It places Latinas in the public arena, where American society begins to see itself more accurately reflected in these nine people. We’re not all white, we’re not all male. We are gendered and we are ethnic people. We are seeing a broader reflection of who we are as a country and that is very important in the High Court.

Inside NAU: What does Sotomayor’s nomination symbolize to you?

Alemán: It makes me proud. It makes me proud of her as an individual and as a representative of me as a Latina