Will Sotomayor's Storied Heritage Help Her to the Bench?

Sotomayor and Supreme Court

Just days before Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings are set to begin, conservative critics are escalating their rhetoric.

Some Republicans have tried to paint Sotomayor as a liberal activist, taking shots at her for backing affirmative action policies and her position on gun rights. But, with the hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled to begin on Monday, July 13, there remains no indication that any one group or specific individual, will gain enough traction to effectively derail Sotomayor's nomination.

Video of Sonia Sotomayors brother talking about her family heritage.
null

Tune into ABCNews.com July 13 at 10 a.m for gavel to gavel live coverage of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

But that doesn't mean Sotomayor will be let off scot-free. Republicans announced on Thursday that they will call New Haven, Conn., firefighter Frank Ricci, who was involved in the reverse discrimination case rejected by Sotomayor on the appellate court, to testify against the judicial nominee. Many conservatives have suggested that her ruling on the case, which was overturned in June by the Supreme Court, is an example of Sotomayor's inability to separate her personal beliefs from her decisions on the bench.

Democrats on Monday will likely push back against these claims, touting Sotomayor as a judge who courts supporters on both sides of the aisle. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former FBI Director Louis Freeh and Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, Sotomayor's first boss, are among the witnesses who will speak in her favor.

For the first time this month, Sotomayor made a visit to Capitol Hill Thursday, meeting with the newest member of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- not to mention the greenest senator -- Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. Franken is one of nearly 90 members with whom the nominee has met. Since her nomination in May, Sotomayor has made a concerted effort to reach out to members of both parties.

What Are the Odds?

Absent a curveball during the confirmation process, the New York appellate judge will likely be confirmed to replace Justice David Souter on the bench in September. Sotomayor, who if confirmed to the court would be the first Hispanic U.S. justice, enjoys wide support from Americans. As reflected in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 62 percent say Sotomayor should be confirmed, among the highest levels of support for a high court nominee in polling data back to Robert Bork in 1987.

The Hispanic nominee has a striking personal tale that fits the bill for the type of Supreme Court justice President Barack Obama outlined as his first choice.

"You have to have not only the intellect to be able to effectively apply the law to cases before you," Obama said in a CSPAN interview in May. "But you have to be able to stand in somebody else's shoes and see through their eyes and get a sense of how the law might work or not work in practical day-to-day living."

A woman of Latina heritage who was raised in the Bronxdale Houses, a sprawling project in the South Bronx, one could say Sotomayor defied the odds.

Her only sibling, Juan Sotomayor, told ABC News' senior national correspondent Claire Shipman that his sister is "the perfect role model."

Watch an exclusive web extra of Juan Sotomayor's trip back to the South Bronx with ABC's Claire Shipman.

"I've always said the Hispanic population in the United States needs role models, educational role models, and I think she's the perfect role model," said Sotomayor, who is a physician in Syracuse, N.Y., and himself an accomplished product of the Bronx. "She's a good person, she's a strong person, she's determined."

Significance of Family Heritage

Sotomayor describes his sister as someone who is focused on the importance of family.

"You grow up with someone and you know what kind of person ... There's no mystery with my sister," he said. "She's a wonderful, warm person, one of the greatest family people you'll ever meet. [She] takes being a family member very seriously, just like she takes everything else."

Growing up with humble beginnings, Sotomator describes their small family as having a bond that's "just incredible." Sonia and Juan lost their father when they were young and their mother raised the children on her own.

"I would say we are a triangular family – my mom, my sister and myself. And we sort of feed each other and depend on each other," he said.

Not only did they feed off each other, but, the Sotomayors were a source of strength for the entire community. Many neighbors viewed their apartment as a sort of clinic to which they could visit if they were sick or needed advice.

"She's Florence nightingale, she helps everyone," said Sotomayor. "My mom was just an instinctive about making right decisions."

Watch an exclusive web extra of Juan Sotomayor's trip back to the South Bronx with ABC's Claire Shipman.

Like Mother, Like Daughter

When asked if Sonia Sotomayor has qualities that mimic her mother's giving nature, Sotomayor was quick to compare the two.

"Independent, certainly not intimidated, certainly hard-working, caring probably more than anything, tolerant," he said of his mother and sister. "My mom taught us no matter where you came from, what kind of job you had, what kind of economic status, what kind of preferences you had in anything in life, you treat them with dignity, treat them with respect. And, my sister has certainly if not learned that lesson, is the epitome of that lesson."

Sonia Sotomayor's storied childhood and background is part of what makes her a unique choice to be a Supreme Court justice. Sotomayor recognizes that his sister is a "significant pick" for the administration, but says she is qualified for the position.

"She represents where we can go. She represents the future. And I believe that she is the right person," he said. "Without a doubt, she is the most qualified, and absolutely the best person for this position."

A proud brother, Sotomayor attributes family heritage as a large factor in his sister's success.

"I think that growing up the way we did makes you respectful again, it makes you humble," said Sotomayor. "We've never looked back or looked down, we always look up and ahead, but always know, you know, we're still the same people. There's nothing that's changed about us fundamentally, that's just an influence of our heritage and our mom and everything that's been given to us."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

-- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8043833. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8043833. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8043833. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8043833. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8043833. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8043833. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8043833. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8043833.
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...