Back to News & Commentary

The Best of Days, The Worst of Days

Anthony D. Romero,
ACLU Executive Director
Share This Page
May 27, 2009

(Originally posted on Huffington Post.)

It was a day of personal schizophrenia for me.

I woke up on the west coast with news of President Obama’s selection of Sonia Sotomayor as the next associate justice of the U.S. Supreme court. My heart swelled with such pride. Over the years, I’ve had occasion to meet Judge Sotomayor and watched her ascent in judicial circles with such pride.

Perhaps my veneration and personal belief in Judge Sotomayor come from the fact that she and I have a similar “pedigree” of sorts. We’re both of Puerto Rican descent, from public housing projects in the Bronx. We both went to Princeton, she went to Yale Law School. I was only wait-listed at Yale, and opted to go to Stanford Law School instead.

Over the years, I watched from afar as she broke one glass ceiling after another. And today felt like the culmination of not just one remarkable woman’s career, but of the sacrifices of generations of immigrant parents who struggled to give their kids a chance at achieving the pinnacle of the American dream. “Que dios me la bendiga” — may god bless her — my grandmother would have said today on Judge Sotomayor’s behalf. And grandma was always right.

Then three hours later, my mood worsened. As one glass ceiling was being shattered and as America was overcoming centuries of discrimination against women and Latinos, one other ceiling was being reinforced with concrete and steel over the heads of gay and lesbian couples in California.

As proud as I was to be a lawyer in the morning, I was disgusted at my profession this afternoon. How could any judge — or any lawyer— not understand what Prop. 8 was really about? What is the role of the judiciary if it is not to protect the minority from the whims of the majority? I sat in the courtroom that day when Prop. 8 was argued, as I watched judges and lawyers struggle in legal speak as they tried to rationalize a decision to take away people’s rights. Was Proposition 8 an amendment or a revision to the state constitution? The first case that granted us full civil rights was a case of first impression. This second case that took away our new-found rights wasn’t a case of first impression. The people — the homophobic majority — has spoken. I guess I just have to lump my civil rights. The majority speaks.

In the afternoon, I went back to the clips of Judge Sotomayor talking of her personal triumph, and hearing President Obama speak of the importance of having a Supreme Court justice speak with empathy for the powerless. While the ACLU does not officially endorse or oppose U.S. Supreme Court candidates, I have never been personally prouder of any appointment.

After watching the evening clips, I asked my media office to check and see if President Obama said anything about Prop. 8 or if a written White House statement was issued to the thousands of lesbians and gays in California who were relegated to second class citizens. Hope springs eternal.

The answer from my press office:

“Obama has not said anything about Prop 8 today. When asked for reaction at the White House press briefing today at 3:48 p.m., Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said:

‘The issues involved are ones that, ah, you know where the president stands.'”

“Brilla con su ausencia,” my grandmother would say when one of her 12 grandkids didn’t show up for her birthday. “He shines in his absence.”

President Obama’s empathy for lesbian and gay Californians shines in its absence today — my grandma would tell him.

May Judge Sotomayor’s deep empathy rub off on all Americans.

Learn More About the Issues on This Page