First Hispanic justice a point of pride for some Augustans

Sandra Moore will never forget it.

The sight of seeing Sonia Sotomayor putting her hand on a Bible and being sworn in as the first Hispanic justice of the U.S. Supreme Court is an image she thought she’d never see in her lifetime.

“It just brings extreme excitement and pride,” said the Panamanian-American as she watched the televised event.

With a Puerto Rican flag hanging above their heads, Ms. Moore and about 10 other Hispanic-Americans gathered around a big-screen television at Cafe San Juan on Fort Gordon to watch Justice Sotomayor’s swearing-in ceremony Saturday morning.

Though Hispanic-Americans are the nation’s fastest-growing and largest minority group, they make up only 2.7 percent of Richmond County’s population, according to 2007 U.S. Census Bureau figures. Of that local total, people of Puerto Rican descent make up the largest segment. Some took particular pride in seeing Justice Sotomayor, who is Puerto Rican-American, officially becoming a member of the Supreme Court.

“I can see that this nation has been breaking the barriers that have anchored us for so long,” Edwin Perez said. “No matter your creed or nationality, now you have the same opportunities.”

Some, however, were bothered by the lack of support Justice Sotomayor got from the Republican party. She received only nine of 40 votes from GOP senators during her confirmation Thursday, which shows a great divide along party lines and some racial resistance, said Nancy Nunez, the owner of Cafe San Juan.

“A lot of it was them just wanting to be against whatever (President) Obama was for,” Mrs. Nunez said . “ She is qualified. She is professional, so that’s all that should matter.”

Mrs. Nunez said she is inspired by Justice Sotomayor’s journey from a housing project in the Bronx to the nation’s high court . The Puerto Rican-born editor of Augusta’s Hispanic newspaper, Hola Augusta, said she understands the challenges Justice Sotomayor must have faced.

“It’s hard as a woman in general, but also as a Hispanic woman, to compete against so many men,” Mrs. Nunez said. “Sometimes even if you’re the best and you have the best record, that’s still not enough, so this means a lot.”

Justice Sotomayor’s record as a lawyer and judge held up well under withering scrutiny, said Ricardo Bravo, an Augusta attorney who is Mexican-American. Her confirmation, he said, shows how far America has come.

“She has been tried, reviewed and even criticized, but she was still confirmed,” he said. “Her vote will count, and though only time will tell how good of a jurist she will be, America will be enriched and better because she was there.”

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