Sunday, August 9, 2009

Justice Sotomayor is Sworn In to the U.S. Supreme Court

On Saturday, August 8, 2009, Sonia Maria Sotomayor was sworn in as the 111th justice of the United States Supreme Court. This was a historical event, as Justice Sotomayor is the first Hispanic justice, and the third female justice in the Court's 220-year history.

Justice Sotomayor is of Puerto Rican descent. She was born in the Bronx on June 25, 1954. Her father passed away when she was 9, after which she was raised by her mother. She completed her undergraduate studies suma cum laude at Princeton University in 1976, and obtained her law degree from Yale Law School in 1979, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal. Early in her career, she worked at the New York District Attorney's office, and later had her own private practice. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated her to the U.S. District Court for Southern District of New York. In 1997, President Bill Clinton nominated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. At the Second Circuit, Justice Sotomyor heard more than 3,000 appellate cases and wrote some 380 court opinions. On May 26, 2009, President Obama nominated Justice Sotomayor for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, to replace Justice David Souter who is retiring.

Justice Sonia Maria Sotomayor

Section 1 of Article III of the U.S. Constitution provides federal judges with life tenure. That is, once a federal judge (including a U.S. Supreme Court Justice) takes the bench, he or she will remain in that position unless the judge resigns or is removed by impeachment. The policy behind this constitutional provision is to eliminate any control by the government's executive branch over the judicial branch. This explains why the nomination and confirmation of federal judges is such a lengthy and hotly debated matter. This is especially true of U.S. Supreme Court justices who sit at the Nation's highest court and their opinion is the ultimate interpretation of the law. In Justice Sotomayor's case, the confirmation process took better than two months and frequently made the news on a daily basis.

The swearing in oath to the U.S. Supreme Court dictates a duty to administer impartial justice. According to Title 28, Chapter I, Part 453 of the United States Code, each Supreme Court Justice takes the following oath of office: "I, [name], do solemnly swear … that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal rights to the poor and to the rich…. So help me God." There is a famous story about Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. who served as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1902-32. One day Justice Holmes was returning to the Court after having lunch with a young lawyer visiting from Washington. As the two parted, the young lawyer said "Do justice, sir." Justice Holmes responded "No, sir. I shall interpret the law. Justice is none of my business."

The materials for this article were obtained from various sources including Yahoo News, Wikipedia, Washington State Bar Association, Cornell University Law School, and For additional information run a search on Google.

Robin Mashal is a partner at the law firm of Hong & Mashal, LLP, and can be reached at (310) 286-2000. His practice focuses on business law, real estate law and civil litigation. Hong & Mashal LLP is a California business law firm.

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