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Media Mention - Kevin in the Nation

Posted By Kevin R. Johnson, May 7, 2009

Here is my contribution to The Nation, which appears on-line and will appear in the next print edition, on President Obama's "ideal" appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court:.

Title: Following Souter


Summary: What should President Obama seek in a nominee? We asked a panel of legal experts to name their ideal Supreme Court justice. The selections are printed below and online at

My Contribution:

After hours of mental gymnastics, I simply could not narrow the field to a single "ideal" Supreme Court nominee. But I offer two potential nominees who would make us all proud and reflect the life experiences, as well as the commitment to the rule of law, of President Obama. Both are highly intelligent and well qualified. Both have varied legal careers that offer the breadth of real-life knowledge that we need in a Supreme Court justice. Both made the most of humble beginnings. Both would add valuable perspective and insight to the Court.

A product of the Bronx housing projects, Judge Sonia Sotomayor became the first Puerto Rican woman to serve as a US Circuit Court judge. A graduate of Princeton and Yale Law School, Judge Sotomayor began her career as an assistant district attorney and later joined a small civil law firm in New York City. She served as a federal district court judge before being elevated to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Judge Sotomayor would be the first Latina (or Latino, for that matter) on the Supreme Court. Besides representing the inclusion and full membership of Latinos in American society, her appointment would add a perspective on issues such as language regulation, immigration (including state and local efforts to regulate immigration) and education, different from that provided by any previous justice. An experienced federal judge, Judge Sotomayor has the scholarly credentials and professional experience to make an immediate contribution to the Court.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. The first in his family to attend college, Patrick graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School. (Full disclosure: I knew a young Patrick, who was in the class ahead of me, in law school.) Patrick served as a law clerk to a US Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt before joining the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. He next worked in private practice until confirmed as the assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Justice Department. Patrick later served as general counsel of Texaco and Coca-Cola before being elected governor. For the past twenty years, the Patrick family has lived in Milton, Massachusetts, in a house that was on Deval's paper route as a teen. A highly accomplished and intelligent lawyer known for his coalition-building skills, Patrick's appointment to the Court would represent the first time that two African-American justices served at the same time and would do much to salve the wounds left by the appointment of conservative justice Clarence Thomas to replace civil rights legend Thurgood Marshall.

Critics may point out that Judge Sotomayor and Governor Patrick are products of the Ivy League. Although greater diversity in educational pedigrees (perhaps even a public law school education!) would be desirable on the Supreme Court, two excellent candidates should not be disqualified because they overcame great socioeconomic and other disadvantage to excel in private universities and obtain the credentials that made their rise to national prominence possible. Both simply have too much to offer the Supreme Court--and the nation.