In the staid Senate hearing room, there was a Bronx moment.
Sonia Sotomayor, as the gavel ended a session that went on for many hours, got up from her chair and embraced the members of her family who had listened to the proceedings from their chairs in the first row. She kissed her mother, Celina, tenderly, then embraced her brother, Juan Luis, her stepfather, two nephews, a niece and a sister in law.
In an environment where politicians often get riveted on phrases like "family values" the nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, a distinguished daughter of the Bronx, was demonstrating her own devotion to her loved ones.
Her mother had nurtured her through childhood after her father died. Celina Sotomayor, who became a nurse, watched in awe as her daughter’s career took off, through Princeton, Yale Law School and the federal bench. In the hugs and kisses that followed the testimony on the hearing’s first day you could see family pride and the roots of a woman destined to be the first Latino nominated for the nation’s highest court.
In her testimony, Judge Sotomayor denied that in her 17 years on the bench she ever ruled on the basis of personal biases. "My personal and professional experiences," she said, "help me to listen and understand, with the law always commanding the result in every case."
Democratic senators praised he highly as a wise and well qualified judge. Republicans took aim at a comment she made in a speech eight years ago that a "wise Latina" would make better decisions in some cases than a white male. They also questioned statements she has made about the importance in her life and work of gender, ethnicity and compassion. The ranking Republican, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, said: "Call it empathy, call it prejudice, or call it sympathy but, whatever it is, it’s not law. In truth, it’s more akin to politics."
Yet the Republicans didn’t indicate that Sotomayor would fail to win approval. Indeed Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said: "Unless you have a complete meltdown, you’re going to get confirmed."
The judge who came out of the housing projects of the South Bronx said: "The progression of my life has been uniquely American."
Now the nation will watch as she fields the questions -- a kind of sport that lawyers enjoy. Hers has been a unique life indeed. And, if she wins confirmation, it will be a triumph for America’s growing Hispanic minority and especially for the judge’s fans in the Bronx.