26 May 2009--Catholic Democrats today applauded President Obama, who surprised court watchers by nominating Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court. Judge Sotomayor would be the sixth Catholic to join the current court, a remarkable departure from just 24 years ago when the court had only a single Catholic justice.
After President Bush nominated two Catholics to fill vacancies during his time in office, most commentators had dismissed the possibility of yet another Catholic joining the Court any time soon. But President Obama, himself a former beneficiary of grant funding from the US Catholic Bishops Conference when he was a community organizer in Chicago, chose a new kind of Catholic for this first opening on the Court--one more faithful in her judicial work to the social Gospel message of Vatican II.
"Not since President Eisenhower picked William Brennan in 1956 has a progressive Catholic been nominated to the Supreme Court," said Dr Patrick Whelan, president of Catholic Democrats. "At a time when a conservative Catholic block on the Court had fought in favor of executing minors, favored indefinite imprisonment, and accommodated torture-derived evidence through military tribunals, Judge Sotomayor represents a new kind of Catholic exemplar on the Supreme Court."
President Obama has now broken new ground with Catholics on many fronts: the most Catholics serving in the Cabinet (nearly 1/3), the first Catholic vice president, and now a sixth Catholic Supreme Court Justice. Steve Krueger, national director of Catholic Democrats, added, "When placed in the context of his Common Ground speech at the Notre Dame Commencement last week, President Obama has moved assertively to bring the common good sensibilities of the Catholic Social Tradition front and center in American public life."
Both of Judge Sotomayor's parents were from Puerto Rico, and she graduated from a Catholic high school in the Bronx. She is a jurist of unusual academic distinction, graduating Summa cum Laude from Princeton, completing law studies at Yale, and teaching law at both New York University and Columbia University.