LYNN NEARY, Host:
I'm Lynn Neary, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away this week. Coming up, the case of a 13-year-old cancer patient raises questions about how much parental rights should count in critical medical decisions. More in a moment.
But first, President Barack Obama has nominated Federal Circuit Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.
BARACK OBAMA: Well, Sonia, what you've shown in your life is that it doesn't matter where you come from, what you look like or what challenges life throws your way. No dream is beyond reach in the United States of America.
NEARY: For more about Judge Sotomayor and the issues that may come up in her confirmation hearings, we're joined by Angelo Falcon, the president of the National Institute for Latino Policy. He joins us from his office in New York City. Welcome to the program.
ANGELO FALCON: Nice to be here.
NEARY: Mr. Falcon, you have worked to advance Latino civil rights for much of your adult life. So I'm wondering how it feels to see this nomination, to see a Latina nominated to the Supreme Court?
FALCON: Well, you know, I'm, like, from Brooklyn. I'm kind of like a tough guy, you know, but I was totally in tears listening to the president's message and to Sonia's presentation this morning.
I was - you know, in the Latino community, some people said this may be one of the most unifying issues for Latinos in this country, having a Latino or Latina on the Supreme Court.
And it's just an amazing thing and really says so much about this country and the openness and the opportunity in this country, and it comes at a time when, you know, Latinos are kind of being under attack in terms of the immigration issue and things like that.
And it's something that I think also buttresses the legitimacy of the legal system. It kind of tells the 50 million Latinos that are out there in this country that, you know, we are a part of this country, and I think that's important.
NEARY: And it also says something that a guy from Brooklyn approves of a woman from the Bronx being nominated.
FALCON: Yeah, well, I mean, it says something about New Yorkers as well, I think. You know, I'm just dying to see what happens, though. In the couple weeks, you know, we have the National Puerto Rican Parade in New York, where it usually assembles about two million Puerto Ricans, and I think that's going to be a big, big celebration around this nomination.
NEARY: You know, Judge Sotomayor's remarks when the president introduced her were very personal, very moving, as you mentioned. Were you surprised by how personal her remarks were?
FALCON: No, it was in keeping with her character. I mean, I think that anyone you speak to who knows her, when you ask them about her, that's the first thing they tell you, how personable she is, how humble, how accessible she is, especially for someone that's a federal judge who, you know, we kind of have this image of these federal judges being, you know, these aloof individuals.
I think, you know, if anything, you know, she brings a humanist, she brings a really down-to-earth quality that I think is very much missing in much of the court today, and I think that's going to be an important contribution, to bring that kind of perspective into the highest court of the land.
NEARY: Now, the president made a point of mentioning that Sotomayor was nominated to the bench by George H.W. Bush and to the appeals court by Bill Clinton. In both cases, she was approved on a bipartisan vote in the Senate, yet even before the nomination was announced, there was already some pushback from conservatives. What are her critics saying?
FALCON: Well, the problem is, you know, she's totally qualified. As the president pointed out, she's probably, in terms of judicial experience, has more experience than anyone on the Supreme Court today when they first came on board.
So, you know, she's definitely qualified, but you're beginning to hear things like that she's the Harriet Miers of the Obama, you know, presidency, that she's not smart, she's dumb, that she has a bad temperament, things that have to do with the fact that, you know, if anything, reflects more maybe people's attitudes towards women and perhaps towards minorities.
And it's going to be really interesting to watch how this proceeds because this is someone who is well qualified. You know, how can you call someone dumb who, you know, went to Yale, went to Princeton, you know, made law review, has been, you know, has spent more time on the federal bench than anybody who was nominated for the Supreme Court that sits on the court now?
So what you're going to hear is a lot of kind of ridiculous things. There was an article in the New Republic where basically it was basically a hit job, saying that, you know, she's again not very smart, that she's all these kind of personal kinds of opinions by anonymous persons. And then at the end of the article, the guy who wrote the article says, oh, by the way, I really don't know that much about her.
So, you know, if anything more than talking about her qualifications, this is going to be more I think a reflection of the kind of, you know, polarized kind of politics in Washington. It doesn't matter who Obama's going to - would have nominated. The Republicans are going to criticize it basically no matter what because just simply because she's not their person.
NEARY: And if you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News, and we're talking about President Obama's choice of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court with Angelo Falcon. He's president of the National Institute for Latino Policy.
You know, Mr. Falcon, Judge Sotomayor was once quoted on tape as saying that the court of appeals is where policy is made, and critics have taken that as a sign that she's going to be an activist judge. Would you say that she is outspoken and that that might hurt her?
FALCON: Well, you know, I hope it doesn't hurt her because basically I think you have to look at her record, the decisions she's made, the fact that she's really more of a pragmatist more than so much as they call an activist judge or that she's, you know, ideological.
No, I think really, I hope in the confirmation hearings, people will be focusing on her actual track record, on the actual decisions she's made and not get into these kinds of, you know, cherry-picking little, you know, quote here and there.
You know, the fact that that was one of the very few times that they could pull something out, and I think out of context, is more telling than anything else.
There is going to be a lot of nit-picking. I think there's going to be a lot of baloney. In the Latino community, we're going to be looking very closely at how the Republicans deal with this because we think the Republican Party needs to be doing more in terms of the Latino community. So we're going to be looking very closely at how the Republicans basically are going to be approaching this nomination.
The Latino community now is 50 million people in this country. We're, you know, close to 10 percent of the voters in this country. We helped put Obama into office with our vote, and I think it's a growing power that I think if the Republican Party has any future, they're going to have to reach out to the Latino community, and this is going to be very defining for the Republican Party in terms of how they handle this nomination.
NEARY: Do you have any sense of what specific efforts Hispanic organizations might make on her behalf?
FALCON: Well, first of all, I think we're all going to be letting people know that we're totally behind her. The support for this nominee in the Latino community is total. Folks are right now talking to each other. We're talking about how we can support her. We know that that's not an issue in terms of, you know, the kind of support she's going to have is going to be overwhelming from our community.
I think here in New York, from people I've talked to, whether you're Latino or Puerto Rican or not, almost total support here in New York as well. And I think what we see this as is a way of a kind of a coming together.
NEARY: first African-American president, here you have the first Latina who's going to be on the Supreme Court and someone who again, eminently qualified for the position who happens to be Latina. That's a bonus, not something that defines her candidacy. It's more of a bonus that I think increases the diversity of the court and I think makes it a place that represents the country's population in a much better way than it has in the past.
NEARY: Angelo Falcon is president of the National Institute for Latino Policy. He joined us by phone from his office in New York City. Thanks so much for joining us.
FALCON: My pleasure.
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