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Commentary: Sotomayor made it on her own

  • Story Highlights
  • Ruben Navarrette: I wrongly predicted that Obama wouldn't name a Hispanic
  • He says he's pleased at nomination of Sonia Sotomayor
  • He says she made it on her own, without being an "affirmative action baby"
  • Navarrette: Millions of Hispanics watched her remarks with pride
By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board and a nationally syndicated columnist. Read his column here.

Ruben Navarrette says he's glad he was wrong in predicting Sotomayor wouldn't be nominated.

Ruben Navarrette says he's glad he was wrong in predicting Sotomayor wouldn't be nominated.

SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Listen closely. I'm going to say three words that you don't often hear from columnists: I was wrong. What's more, I've never been so pleased to be proven wrong.

About two weeks ago, I predicted that President Obama wouldn't nominate a Hispanic to the Supreme Court.

I said the fact that the name of U.S. Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor was on the short list was window dressing, the sort of cynical ploy that liberals use to get credit for doing something when they really haven't done anything.

One of my favorite examples dates back to 1984, when former Vice President Walter Mondale, in search of a running mate, was said to have considered San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, although it was hard to believe that Mondale intended to choose him since going from mayor of a medium-sized city to vice president is a leap. In the end, Mondale chose three-term Rep. Geraldine Ferraro.

But when it came to Sotomayor, I was wrong. There, I said it again. In fact, a lot of people I spoke to in recent weeks -- including several journalists, lawyers, law professors, former government officials, etc. -- were wrong. They, too, thought Sotomayor would be passed over and that Obama would miss the chance to make history by nominating a Latina to the Supreme Court.

Maybe we all read too much into a recent interview that Obama gave on C-Span in which he said he didn't "feel weighed down by having to choose a Supreme Court justice based on demographics."

How about on sheer qualifications? Sotomayor sure has them. Raised by her mother after her father died, Sotomayor graduated from Princeton University summa cum laude and from Yale Law School. She has spent 17 years on the federal bench, longer than either John Roberts or Samuel Alito had served before they ascended to the Supreme Court.

Still, many of the stories about Sotomayor have came close to amounting to a smear; they painted a caricature of the 17-year veteran of the federal judiciary as hot tempered, too liberal, sharp with lawyers and not enough of an intellectual heavyweight.

She's also been attacked as a judicial activist, as if we'd never seen one of those before. In fact, the difference between judicial activism and reasonable adjudication often depends on whether you agree with the verdict in a given case.

When the Supreme Court decided Roe vs Wade, which granted a woman's right to an abortion, that was judicial activism. And, one day, if the Court were to reverse that decision, that, too, would be judicial activism -- albeit in the opposite direction.

We can expect another issue to be more troublesome for Sotomayor: affirmative action. Her confirmation battle is likely to be a referendum on race-based efforts to produce student bodies and workforces that -- to borrow a phrase -- look like America. iReport.com: Sotomayor 'the new face of America'

One reason is her biography. Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh called her "an affirmative action case extraordinaire," although affirmative action doesn't help you graduate summa cum laude from an Ivy League university.

There are also those who have written that a vote for Sotomayor is a vote for "identity politics;" it's a ridiculous charge that isn't leveled at nominees who are Italian, Irish, Jewish, etc. And finally, there is the case involving the New Haven Fire Department, where Sotomayor joined two colleagues on the appeals court in upholding a decision by the city to throw out the results of a firefighters' exam because they conflicted with hiring goals because none of the top scorers were African-American.

My own views on racial preferences (I oppose them) may be different than Sotomayor's. I don't know. iReport.com: Sotomayor pick a 'gimmick'

This much I do know: This week, Sotomayor said she was "deeply moved" by President Obama's decision to nominate her to the Supreme Court. She isn't the only one. Along with what I would guess were millions of Hispanics across the country, I watched Sotomayor's remarks with a mix of awe and pride.

Poking at my laptop, I noticed my two kids -- my 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son -- patiently waiting for Daddy to get done with the television so they could get on with the cartoon hour. Pointing to Sonia Sotomayor on TV, my voice cracked when I said to my little girl: "Look Mija, something really important happened today, something that reminds me that you can be anything you want in this world, all because of moments like this."

What a magnificent country. There's no way to get that wrong.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.

All About Barack ObamaSonia SotomayorU.S. Supreme CourtHispanic and Latino Issues

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