Judge Sonia Sotomayor in 1998. That year she handled a death penalty matter, her only such case on the federal bench.
As a drug kingpin and his bodyguard, both black, faced the first death penalty trial in Manhattan since the days of the Rosenbergs, their lawyers argued that the practice of capital punishment was racist.
“We’re doing what the death penalty has always done historically, which is target minority people,” one of the lawyers said in 1998 as he asked a Federal District Court judge to declare the penalty unconstitutional.
That judge was Sonia Sotomayor — a Bronx-born woman of Puerto Rican descent who as a young lawyer had leveled much the same attack on capital punishment. And as she listened to the arguments that day, she acknowledged there were many unresolved “tensions” surrounding the death penalty. But she flatly told the lawyers she had no power to resolve them. “I don’t as a judge,” she said. “They are not up to me. Ultimately, they are up to Congress and the Supreme Court.”
And now Judge Sotomayor has been nominated for a seat on the Supreme Court.