How are feminists responding to Sotomayor?

While NOW cheerleads, NARAL releases a cautious endorsement.

By Judy Berman
Published May 26, 2009 3:27PM (EDT)

Salon has been following this morning's news that President Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter. It now seems clear that Obama was intent on nominating a woman for the position: The New York Times reports that the president's final shortlist included Judge Diane P. Wood, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Solicitor General Elena Kagan.

Sotomayor, who grew up in Bronx public housing before going on to Princeton, Yale Law School, the New York District Attorney's Office and private practice, isn't shy about acknowledging the importance of her background and identity. The Times notes that, in 2002, she said, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life."

There has already been some conservative pushback to Sotomayor's nomination. But while feminist groups have, predictably, been more supportive of Sotomayor, they aren't all lining up to congratulate her, either. So far, NOW seems most enthusiastic about the decision. In a statement released Tuesday morning, the organization's president, Kim Gandy, writes,

Judge Sotomayor will serve the nation with distinction. She brings a lifelong commitment to equality, justice and opportunity, as well as the respect of her peers, unassailable integrity, and a keen intellect informed by experience. President Obama said he wanted a justice with "towering intellect" and a "common touch" and he found both in Judge Sotomayor.

Although Sotomayor is known for siding with plaintiffs in sex (as well as age, race and disability) discrimination cases, her opinions on abortion and gay marriage remain unclear. While she has never publicly rendered a decision on reproductive rights, SCOTUSblog points out that the judge did once write an opinion, widely protested by pro-choice groups, stating that the government " 'is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position' with public funds." That may explain why we've yet to see an endorsement from Planned Parenthood. NARAL Pro-Choice America, for its part, has chosen to be cautiously optimistic:

"President Obama has selected a nominee with a distinguished record of professional accomplishments as a judge, prosecutor, and community leader. This impressive personal biography signals that she possesses an understanding of how the law affects everyday people's lives," [NARAL President Nancy Keenan] said. "We are encouraged by the strong support she receives from her peers and other legal scholars and the fact that the Senate has twice confirmed her for federal judgeships. We look forward to learning more about Judge Sotomayor's views on the right to privacy and the landmark Roe v. Wade decision as the Senate's hearing process moves forward."

UPDATE: Planned Parenthood has sent out the following statement from president Cecile Richards: 

We believe that this historic nomination sends a strong signal that President Obama understands the importance of ensuring that our Supreme Court justices respect precedent while protecting our civil liberties.

What our nation needs from our Supreme Court Justices is a deep understanding of the law and its impact on everyday Americans, and a commitment to the protection of our individual liberties. We look forward to Judge Sotomayor bringing these qualities to the Supreme Court.

There is no doubt that Judge Sotomayor's story is an inspiration to all. Her nomination as the first Hispanic woman justice reminds us that with hard work, dedication, and commitment all things are truly possible in America.



Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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