Floor Statement of Senator Shaheen On the Nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court

July 21, 2009

Mr. President, everyone in my home state was proud 19 years ago when former President George H. W. Bush nominated New Hampshire's own David Souter as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Every action Justice Souter has taken since he began his service on our nation's highest court has only reinforced that pride.

So, when Justice Souter announced in early May that he intended to retire at the end of this term of the Court and return home to New Hampshire, I took a particular interest in whom President Obama would select to fill David Souter's seat.

I believe President Obama has made a thoughtful and outstanding choice in Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Judge Sotomayor has had a distinguished career as a federal judge.  As has been widely noted, if confirmed, she would bring more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice in 100 years. Today, David Souter is the only member of the Supreme Court with prior experience as a trial-court judge. Sonia Sotomayor, too, would be the only Justice - the only one - with experience as a trial-court judge. I happen to think it's important that at least one of the nine Supreme Court Justices have that experience. It is trial judges after all who day in and day out must apply the legal principles enunciated in Supreme Court opinions.  She also served five years as a local prosecutor and practiced law for seven years as a trial attorney with a law firm. Judge Sotomayor, because of her experience, will be ever mindful of the need to provide those in the courtroom with clear and practical decisions.

More importantly, she will understand how Supreme Court opinions affect real human beings. As a trial judge, Judge Sotomayor every day directly faced innocent victims of crime, vicious perpetrators of crime, and, occasionally, the wrongfully accused. She directly faced injured parties seeking civil redress and civil defendants who may have made honest mistakes. She had to answer - what is the right verdict? What is the right length of incarceration? What is the right level of damages? These are not easy decisions. I know that, because my husband was a state court trial judge. Trial court judges must be able to live with the justice they mete out. To do it well, it takes more than an understanding of the law; it takes an understanding of people.  Judge Sotomayor has a great understanding of both.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Sonia Sotomayor the day she fractured her ankle. She handled that painful injury with grace and humor. She has a first-rate temperament.

She also has a first-rate intellect. After growing up in a public housing project in the South Bronx, she excelled at both Princeton and Yale Law School.

I believe Judge Sonia Sotomayor is an excellent choice to replace David Souter as a Supreme Court Justice.  She deserves a fair and thorough hearing without delay.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.        

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