June 2, 2009 — President Barack Obama's May 26 nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, to the U.S. Supreme Court, has many of St. Croix's large Puerto Rican population celebrating the milestone and taking inspiration from the example.
"As a person of Hispanic descent, I'm extremely proud," said V.I. Supreme Court Justice Maria M. Cabret Tuesday. Cabret, a St. Croix native, was the first person of Puerto Rican descent to serve on the V.I. Territorial Court, and after 19 years, retired, to be appointed to the fledgling V.I. Supreme Court in 2006.
"She is an historic choice to be sure," Cabret said. "But I hope the fact it is historic does not overshadow her qualifications, which are truly excellent."
As someone from humble origins, Sotomayor's nomination will inspire disadvantaged young men and women all over by showing them a role model and demonstrating they have a chance, she said.
"I think she already has," Cabret said. "Not only here in the Virgin Islands, but all over the children in the Bronx, in Puerto Rico, all over the United States poor children in school see her as a role model. They see what she has accomplished and are likely to work harder and stronger to accomplish their goals. That is a true blessing."
As a jurist, Cabret thinks Sotomayor is near the center, with a focus on the letter of the law.
"The few opinions I have read, to me she seems a moderate liberal and I think a person who truly respects the Constitution," she said.
Excitement is not limited to professional jurists like Cabret.
"I think it is a step forward for Hispanic people, not only in the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico, but around the world," said Luis Alicea, a St. Croix sports shop owner and member of the V.I.-Puerto Rico Friendship Committee. "Besides, I'm a sportsman and a sports fan and I know in 1995, I think it was, she saved the baseball season. It took her only 15 minutes to decide and she made everyone go back and play ball."
Alicea was referring to a case Sotomayor heard as a U.S. District Court Judge , three years after her 1992 appointment by then-President George H.W. Bush to the U. S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. In 1995 she issued an injunction against Major League Baseball owners, effectively ending a baseball strike that had become the longest work stoppage in professional sports history and had caused the cancellation of the World Series the previous fall.
Senator Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O'Reilly issued a statement saying she was thrilled by the nomination, noting her own family from Puerto Rico, that like Sotomayor, she too came from humble means and has always had a "deep desire to excel."
Like Cabret, O'Reilly believes Sotomayor serves as an important role model, saying she "serves as a beacon of hope and a testament to all of our children that hard work and perseverance can lead to success, despite your socioeconomic background."
Pride in the symbolism of a Puerto Rican such as Sotomayor entering where none have before, inspiration by her example and happiness at the prospect of the real, undeniable power that comes with a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court are all causes for excitement to some on St. Croix.
"It is not only that it is someone that looks like me," said St. Croix film director Johanna Bermúdez-Ruiz. "It is that here is a young intellectual that has placed a check in places that once upon a time, someone like me was not able to because they said I couldn´t do so Yes I can Yes we can Sí, yo puedo Sí, se puede!"
Born to a Puerto Rican family, Sotomayor's parents moved to New York during World War II, and she grew up in a public housing project in the South Bronx. Her father died when she was nine, after which she turned to books for solace, according to a biography distributed by the White House.
She graduated as valedictorian of her class at Cardinal Spellman High School in New York. She won a scholarship to Princeton, where she graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. While at Princeton, she was a co-recipient of the M. Taylor Pyne Prize, the highest honor Princeton awards to an undergraduate.
At Yale Law School, Sotomayor was an editor of the Yale Law Journal and managing editor of the Yale Studies in World Public Order. After law school, Sotomayor became an assistant district attorney in Manhattan in 1979, where she tried dozens of criminal cases over five years.
Initially appointed as a federal trial judge in 1992, she presided over roughly 450 cases before President Bill Clinton appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1998. The first Latina to serve on that court, she has participated in over 3,000 panel decisions, authoring roughly 400 published opinions over her 11 year tenure. She is a lecturer at Columbia University Law School and was also an adjunct professor at New York University Law School until 2007.
If confirmed, Sotomayor would bring more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice in 100 years, and more overall judicial experience than anyone confirmed for the court in the past 70 years.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.