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Why It Is Critical That The African American Community Unite Behind Sonia Sotomayor

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Kamala Harris

By Kamala Harris, District Attorney of San Francisco

As I watched the announcement of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s appointment to the United States Supreme Court, I, like many Americans, was struck by the historic picture on my television screen. The nation’s first African American president nominating the first Latina as a potential Supreme Court Justice.

Few things have made me prouder as an American than seeing our country put aside age-old prejudices and in choosing hope over fear, elect the first African American President.  We elected Barack Obama not because of his race, but because he was the best person to lead our country.

Today we face a similar choice as the Senate considers President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court.

Opponents of Judge Sotomayor, such as Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Ann Coulter, are calling her a “racist” for expressing view that we need judges with a diversity of life experiences.

There is something tragic in the transparent cynicism of this charge.  Do they also intend to condemn Abraham Lincoln for the pride he took in his hardscrabble roots on the western frontier? This is America, where people of all races are rightly proud of accomplishments in the face of adversity.

As Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said while celebrating the bicentennial of our constitution

in 1987: “The men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787…could not have imagined, nor would they have accepted, that the document they were drafting would one day be construed by a Supreme Court to which had been appointed a woman and the descendent of an African slave.”

Yet today a Latina Judge has been nominated by an African American President for the job of construing our constitution. As the President noted during his announcement of her appointment, there are few presidential decisions as important as the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice. Over the coming years the Supreme Court will likely rule on such critical issues as voting rights, gun control and the regulation of Wall Street.

I intend to make it my mission to galvanize my community in support of Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation.  And I will make the same case for Judge Sotomayor that I made for then-Senator Barack Obama. It is very simple: Judge Sotomayor is the best qualified American for this job.  Judge Sotomayor has all of the legal and life experience to be an excellent Supreme Court Justice.

She grew up in a public housing project in the South Bronx and was raised by a single mom who also

found time to attend community college, work full-time and train to  become a registered nurse.

Judge Sotomayor worked as an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, where she prosecuted dozens of serious criminal cases. As a former prosecutor, Judge Sotomayor has the courtroom experience necessary to make rulings based on a working knowledge of our courts.

Judge Sotomayor has a history of bipartisanship and a wealth of experience on the bench. She has been appointed to judicial positions by both President George H. W. Bush and President Clinton. Serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, one of the most demanding in the nation, she has participated in more than 3000 panel decisions and authored 400 opinions on a multitude of complex issues.  As the President noted, Judge Sotomayor would bring more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice in 100 years.

I strongly believe that all Americans benefit when we have leaders who represent the broad diversity of the American experience.  Too often, people have tried to create false divisions between the African-American and Latino communities.

Regardless of our differences, the truth is that we all share the same hopes and dreams. We should stand together against bigotry and narrow mindedness, and fight for the confirmation of Judge Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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