Before Senate confirmation hearings began Monday for federal appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor, a coalition of Pittsburgh organizations led by the local chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women lobbied on behalf of the jurist who hopes to become the first Latina to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The coalition met Wednesday, July 8, with the chiefs of staff of Sens. Arlen Specter and Robert P. Casey Jr. in their Pittsburgh offices.
“That went very well,” said Elena Rovner, co-chair of the NCJW-Pittsburgh’s Judicial Nominations Committee, and a leader of the coalition. “We just went in there as constituents and representatives of our respective organizations to discuss our positions on the nomination, and we all urged them to go back to their senators for a fair and expeditious confirmation process and to focus on her impeccable qualifications.”
The NCJW backs Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, and the national organization has an observer at the hearings.
“NCJW is encouraged that Judge Sotomayor’s record on individual rights and liberties reflects that of a jurist committed to fundamental freedoms,” NCJW President Nancy Ratzan said in a prepared statement following President Obama’s May 26 nomination of the judge. “We are hopeful that, if confirmed, her tenure on the Supreme Court will strengthen the Court’s role as the ultimate guardian of individual rights.
“We just like her story,” added Judi Kasdan, the other co-chair of the local nominations committee. “We think she’s fair; we like that she’s a woman and we like that she’s an exceptional woman. When we lobby the senators, we want them to give her a fair hearing.”
The Pittsburgh coalition that lobbied the senators was organized with the help of grant money from the national NCJW. Chapters in Cleveland and Omaha received similar grants.
The funding was intended to organize coalitions for judicial nominees in general, but the process began around the time Supreme Court Justice David Souter announced his retirement and President Barack Obama nominated Sotomayor to succeed him.
“The common theme is we are trying to build a coalition of people who respect constitutional values and want to see fair process in all judicial nominations and confirmations, starting of course with Sonia Sotomayor,” Kasdan said.
In addition to the NCJW, the organizations in the coalition are Planned Parenthood, Zonta International (an organization of executives and professionals who advocate for women), the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, the JBM Immigration Group (a law firm), Alliance for Justice, Common Cause, United Steelworkers of America, the University of Pittsburgh Hispanic Law Students Association and the National Organization for Women.
Rovner, a Pittsburgh attorney, said the collation, which will stay together past the Sotomayor confirmation, is not restricted to issues related to judicial nominations
“We will continue to meet and advocate on other issues,” she said, “whether it’s constitutional rights or individual freedom or reproductive rights. Any issue in the community we are concerned about we would address through the coalition as well.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)